Today is National Coming Out Day. It is important every year, but particularly during a political campaign fraught with anti-minority demagoguery. Coming out also has a significant impact on the law, both on the books and how equality gets operationalized on the ground.
As we learned from the push for marriage equality, voters who knew openly gay persons were more likely to support LGBTQ equality, generally, and the freedom to marry, in particular, than those who did not.
In fact, researchers found a direct causal relationship between switching opinions from anti- to pro-marriage equality and meeting and getting to know an openly gay neighbor, co-worker, or family member. This was one of the chief motivators behind the campaign’s “neighborhood” approach.
During popular votes in Maine, for example, organizers encouraged openly gay sons and daughters to talk to their parents, their parents’ neighbors, their parents’ friends, old teachers, and other community members.
They asked openly gay Mainers to reach out to their neighbors to make sure they knew they were happily living among gay people. And since Maine voted twice on marriage equality — once in 2009, overturning the legislature’s pro-equality vote, and again in 2012, enacting marriage equality by a 53-47 vote — the effect of the neighborhood approach was evident. Mainers who had voted against marriage equality in 2009 but supported in 2012 spoke about how conversations with openly gay Mainers helped change their minds.
Coming out helps in other ways. More openly gay voters means more openly gay policymakers. And legislatures with openly gay members are less likely to pass anti-gay legislation. This makes the work of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund so important.
But the effects on the ground may be even more important. Openness about our identities and living our truths can help demystify worlds that many voters consider foreign.
We have seen this most recently in the media portrayals and public discourse surrounding anti-transgender laws like North Carolina’s HB 2. To many North Carolina voters, and certainly to the state’s isolated and bigoted governor, transgender individuals are not only “others,” they are completely unknowns.
The mystery and otherness of the transgender community allows opponents to fill the void with hate, lies, and nonsense.
It is, of course, a complete pretext to suggest that men are masking as transgender to attack women in bathrooms. As the revelation of Donald Trump’s bragging about sexually assaulting women shows, women in public bathrooms have much more to fear from toxic masculinity than transgender women. And yet, the public narrative, burdened by a lack of transgender role models, could be bent away from the truth.
Coming out, whether as transgender, lesbian, bisexual, or gay, matters for many reasons: for our mental health, our self esteem, and our long term happiness and success. It is also important we make our voices heard so the majority cannot ignore us when our rights and very livelihood come up for a vote.