BY JON HOADLEY
This month, people across Michigan celebrated National Coming Out Day and Spirit Day. When Robert Eichberg and Jean O’Leary started the first National Coming Out Day, it was built around the premise that most people know an LGBTQ person — they just don’t realize it. When Brittany McMillan started Spirit Day, she wanted to remember those young people who lost their lives to suicide or suffer through bullying.
Both days bring visibility to the lives and experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people. Both days continue to be relevant in 2017, 2018 and beyond. While amazing progress has been made since the first National Coming Out Day in 1988, that progress is still under attack. The administration occupying 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has a long history of demeaning and attacking LGBT folks, and a more recent track record of bringing that bias to new policies in 2017.
Most folks remember the disastrous “License to Discriminate” law that then governor and now Vice President Pence signed into law in Indiana. The 2015 Indiana law gave free passes to medical providers, businesses, various social services providers working with children, and governments to refuse services to LGBT folks based on their personal beliefs. The law turned the Constitutional shield to practice the free exercise of religion into a sword to damage the lives of others.
The law was a huge disgrace but, as with many instances of attacks on LGBT folks, earned Gov. Pence a promotion. The Trump administration has tried to ban transgender service members, supported legal arguments to allow religiously-based discrimination, and has nominated a slew of anti-equality judges.
When adults are given the legal green light to discriminate, it is no wonder that young people still think bullying is acceptable. According to GLAAD, over 85 percent of LGBTQ students report being verbally harassed. Over three out of five students report hearing homophobic remarks from teachers and/or staff because of their gender expression. And, sadly as a result, over half of LGBTQ students do not report harassment because they doubted intervention to solve the problem.
Visibility matters. Having our community represented in the decision making process matters. And we need to do a better job reflecting the diversity of our community’s experience. In Michigan, legislation to improve the quality of life for LGBTQ people languishes in committees because of partisan games and gerrymandering.
We need good people to run for office — all levels of office — across the state. It is time our state elected an out lesbian woman to the state Legislature. We need to increase the racial and ethnic diversity of the LGBT caucus in Michigan. We need to build a bench of out officials in every corner of our state, not only to prove the original premise of National Coming Out Day, but to hold decision makers accountable for when they attack our community or refuse to act in support of our lives, liberties, or pursuit of happiness.
If you aren’t in a position to run for office, help someone who is. Talking to voters, writing checks to candidates you support, pooling your finances in a pro-equality Political Action Committee like AZO PAC, sharing social media posts, and even putting up a yard sign are all ways you can do something to help. National Coming Out Day and Spirit Day may have passed for 2017, but our work continues.