October 11 is National Coming Out Day … a day set aside for advocates and allies, as well as people of all gender identities, sexual orientations, and affectional orientations to come out in support of the LGBTQ community. This weekend is the annual Atlanta PRIDE Festival and Parade. This seems a fitting event for this day.
I wonder how many people will choose this day to come out … to let go, or lose, the closet in which they’ve been keeping their secret. People keeping this part of their identity private endure a great deal of inner turmoil, and often have very real concerns for their safety and survival. They are courageous people in many ways … not the least of which is in coming to terms with their own identities. In a society where there is still so much discrimination, fear, prejudice, hate, and violence against people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer, there is much at stake when one steps out of that closet. It takes a different kind of courage to step out into the open … there can be much at risk: families split, jobs lost, friends divided. Yes, it takes a great deal of courage to step out of the closet, and it takes a lot of courage to wrestle with one’s identity in preparation for that day. Some never do … some lose the battle with accepting themselves as they are with tragic consequences.
Unitarian Universalism has a long history of wrestling with LGBTQ issues … our own “coming out” in support was gradual. While we began progress on this journey in the 1950s with the first UU minister performing a commitment ceremony for a same gender couple, it wasn’t until the early 1970’s that we really stepped up our advocacy, education, and witness for the LGBTQ community, side-by-side with the Metropolitan Community Church and the United Church of Christ. And we are still on the journey to fully welcoming people who are bisexual, transgender and queer in our congregations. It is only in the last decade that people who identify along the continuum of sexual and gender identity have had real choices of faith communities that would receive them, and still fewer that accept them unconditionally … as completely whole in God’s eyes, without exception.
Marriage equality is now the law of this land, but the work to gain full human and civil rights continues here in America, and around the globe. Until we who stand on the side of love can conquer the fear and hatred in people’s hearts, we will continue to have people living in the closet, unable to live fully self-expressed, authentic lives. It is this vision of people free to live their lives authentically that inspires and motivates me to stand, walk, march, sing, dance, preach and live on the side of love.