By Candace Gingrich
“Are you trying to tell me something?” my mother asked as she held a copy of the “Lavender Letter,” a central Pennsylvania lesbian newsletter she had found in my room. It was the summer of 1987, and I had only recently acknowledged to myself that I was a lesbian. I was on my coming out journey, and it was important that my mom come with me.
My mom passed away last month at the age of 77. As I look back, I remember her as someone who once told me that they “didn’t have gay people” when she was growing up and, for a time, insisted that my being gay was just a phase.
But I also remember her as someone who grew with me because we were family. She accepted me for who I am, invited my partner to family gatherings and debated who was and wasn’t gay in Hollywood. Not someone who hesitated to speak her mind, she also spoke out for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality.
Back in 1996, she appeared with Coretta Scott King, Barry Goldwater and Christine Todd Whitman in a television ad sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign that called for support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill for which we are still fighting that would outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace.
What made her do it? The same thing that makes the parents, siblings and friends of so many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender person stand up and support equal rights for all GLBT people every day. Someone they love has come out to them.
In a July 2003 poll commissioned by the HRC Foundation, we found that 36 percent of those who said they didn’t know anyone gay approved of granting “civil marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples, with the same rights, responsibilities and protections given to other married couples.” But 81 percent of those who had a close family member or friend who was gay, lesbian, bi or transgender supported civil marriage equality.
The lesson is clear: The single most powerful thing any one of us can do to win GLBT equality is to come out to family members and friends.
That is why the HRC Foundation’s National Coming Out Project has declared the theme of this National Coming Day, Oct. 11, “It’s a Family Affair.”
It’s time we celebrate ourselves as families – couples, parents and children, families of our own choosing – and invite our parents, siblings, grandparents and friends to join us in our quest for equality for all.
So don’t come out alone this Oct. 11. Come out as a family.
Tell your family members that there are same-sex couples in 99.3 of all counties nationwide and that one out of three lesbian couples and one out of five gay male couples are raising children. But make sure you also tell them that none of our families can rely on the same basic protections available to heterosexual families.
Let them know that we are denied basic Social Security survivor benefits, the ability to make decisions on a partner’s behalf in a medical emergency, the right to petition for a partner to immigrate, access to medical leave to care for a seriously ill partner and the right to give our children two legal parents in many states.
Remind them that, as family, their silence hurts — but their support heals.
Ask them to visit www.millionformarriage.org and sign the petition in support of civil marriage equality for all.
And encourage them to learn more about your life. Send them to the Human National Coming Out Project, at www.hrc.org/ncop, and the HRC Foundation’s FamilyNet project at www.hrc.org/familynet.
Candace Gingrich is manager of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s National Coming Out Project.
The Human Rights Campaign is the largest national lesbian and gay political organization with members throughout the country. It effectively lobbies Congress, provides campaign support and educates the public to ensure that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans can be open, honest and safe at home, at work and in the community.