On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
In 1987, 500,000 people marched on Washington for lesbian and gay rights. That march led to the annual national coming out day, with Sunday marking the 32nd anniversary of the day meant to celebrate the act of “coming out” for members of the LGBTQ community.
So, how important is National Coming Out Day for the LGBTQ community, and what’s planned for the day this year?
Produced by Kurt Gardinier
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. Later in the broadcast we'll discuss this year's virtual Palestinian Film and Arts Festival. But first, in 1987 500,000 people marched on Washington for lesbian and gay rights. That march led to the annual national coming out day. Sunday marks the 32nd anniversary of the day meant to celebrate the act of coming out for members of the LGBTQ community. So what's planned for national coming out day this year? Joining me now is Alphonso David. Alphonso David is the President of the Human Rights Campaign. Alphonso, thank you so much for joining us.
ALPHONSO DAVIDKojo, thank you so much for having me.
NNAMDIWell, talk about the origins of national coming out day and the evolution of this day over the past 30 plus years.
DAVIDSure, sure. As you mentioned, we are celebrating the 32nd annual national coming out day. National coming out day is celebrated every year on the anniversary of the national march on Washington for lesbian and gay rights in the 80s. That was the first one. And every year since then, on October 11th, national coming out day emphasis the importance of coming out and creating a safe environment in which LGBTQ people can live openly as their authentic selves.
DAVIDSo every single year people all around the country celebrate this day and make sure that they create and support environments for LGBTQ people to feel safe. Research shows that when an individual knows someone, who is LGBTQ, they're more likely to support LGBTQ equality. So this is not only incredibly personal and important for people, but it's also a political statement.
DAVIDAnd it also advances LGBTQ issues as a matter of policy. Coming out and living openly as we are can be a powerful statement against attacks on the LGBTQ community. So it's really advanced over the past few years and continues to be a really a clarion call for people to live their lives openly and create an environment where they can do so.
NNAMDIIf you don't mind talking about it, Alphonso, for you personally what does this represent? And if you're comfortable discussing it, what was your experience coming out to family and friends?
DAVIDWell, I came out to my family in the early 1990s after college. And I came out first to my siblings and then subsequently to my parents. And I got two radically different responses. My siblings were incredibly supportive and my parents were not. My parents reacted in a very visceral negative way. Both of my parents, who are now deceased, were raised in very orthodox Christian and we're from Liberia, West Africa. So in Liberia it is illegal to be LGBTQ.
DAVIDAnd so they grew up in that environment and my father was very concerned about what it would mean for the family, what it would mean for how people would perceive the family. And my mother was very concerned about me dying of some illness, because she associated LGBTQ with death.
DAVIDIn many cases just because how people have unfortunately misinterpreted religion over time or misapplied it I should say. So my experience going through coming out was both incredibly joyous with my siblings, but devastating when it came to my parents. It took them a long time to become comfortable enough to appreciate that my sexual orientation was not something I could change. This was a part of me -- an intrinsic part of me.
NNAMDIJoining us now is Kevin Naff, Editor and Co-owner of the Washington Blade, the nation's oldest LGBTQ news publication. Kevin, thank you for joining us.
KEVIN NAFFHi, Kojo, thanks for having me.
NNAMDIKevin, why do you think national coming out day is so important for members of the LGBTQ community?
NAFFWell, I think for two reasons. First and foremost it is the most helpful choice you can make for yourself in terms of your mental health. Living a double live, denying a critical part of who you are is a destructive thing. So owning that and living authentically is the best choice you can make for yourself and for your health. Secondarily, the benefit is as Alphonso touched on, which is the more people, who are out, the more our public policies will change and reflect that and reflect a more accepting and just and equal society.
NNAMDIIf you don't mind talking about it, what was your experience coming out?
NAFFYou know, it was tough. I came out a little bit later like late 20s. And I came from a religious Catholic upbringing, but it turned out that my parents are incredibly cool and supportive people. And my siblings were accepting as well. So I'm one of the lucky ones and I am grateful for that. I acknowledge that. But it was not easy, you know. It was not an easy thing to do. But it was the best thing I've ever done and the best thing that anybody will ever do.
NNAMDIHere is T in Washington D.C. T, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
THi, thanks so much for taking my call. I am also on my late 20s having come out several times over the last 10 years. And I'm a transperson. I identify as queer. And for me, coming out is a process. I think both of the other speakers have spoken to how important it is to not lead a double life for one's own like health. But I think that also as someone who is pretty grounded in my identity it's important to be visible for younger LGBTQ plus people and for folks who are in positions with less privilege.
TLike I am a white transperson. I am in a position where in I'm in much less danger of, you know, my transness impacting my career or my safety. And so the more I can be visible and talk to people, the more I feel like going forward it will be a safer more beneficial experience for other people to come out.
NNAMDIYou mentioned that you have come out several times over the year. How come several times?
TI mean over the last 10 years I've come out to various people as queer and as trans and explaining what that means. Sometimes means coming out in every new job or coming out to my parents a couple of times and explaining kind of what transness means and what queerness means, and how I'm still the same person, but like, you know, these are the ways that talking about myself and contextualizing myself feels authentic.
NNAMDIThank you very much for sharing your story with us, T. You too can give us a call 800-433-8850. Kevin Naff, as I mentioned at the top the Washington Blade is the oldest LGBTQ news publication. It's been publishing since 1969. How has it evolved over its 51 years and what is it focusing on today?
NAFFWell, obviously, it's changed quite a bit. It started as a one sheet mimeographed newsletter that was handed out to a handful of gay bars in Dupont Circle. And it's grown, of course, over the decades. I think one of the ways that it's really changed is the scope of our mission while we do cover, obviously, local news.
NNAMDIYep, Kevin seems to be breaking up on us. We're going to get Kevin back in a second. In the meantime, let's hear what Rachel in Arlington, Virginia has to say. Rachel, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RACHELHi, how are you? Well, first of all. I just want to kind of echo what T, the former caller, said in terms of my perspective. Also come from a place of privilege. I'm a white cisgendered female. But I have an older brother who is heterosexual and he did not have to, you know, have this long in depth conversation with everyone about his sexuality. And I had an interaction with a friend who basically said that he believed that women, who are gay are gay because they were sexually assaulted.
RACHELAnd so at that point I just decided that for me what felt normal and what felt right was to not have those conversations with people and instead lead by action in terms of just living my life like everything was completely normal, because it is. And whoever had an issue on it, it kind of put an impetus on them to come to me to voice their issue. And so it kind of led to whoever wanted to be in our life to be in our life and whoever didn't, didn't. And actually just celebrated my second year wedding anniversary a few days ago.
NNAMDISo how did that policy work out for you? Letting people approach you rather than coming out to people?
RACHELIt worked out pretty well. I mean, I only had a little bit of pushback. Like I said, I mean, I was very, very lucky. I didn't feel like my safety was going to be challenged at any point, which is not the experience for everyone. I did have some pushback actually from my father's side of the family. My parents are divorced where certain members of the family were actually frustrated with me that I didn't have a coming out conversation with them.
RACHELAnd that kind of just further enforced for me that that coming out conversation was more for them than it was for me to make them feel comfortable to explain myself and things like. And I think in this day and age, you know, there's so much information out there that if people have questions, you know, it shouldn't necessarily put the impetus on that family member to be an advocate for the overall gay community.
NNAMDIOkay. We only have about a minute left in this segment, but I'd like Alphonso David to respond to that. The notion of not coming out, Alphonso.
DAVIDWell, a coming out experience is unique for each and every person. It's a personal decision is the decision that for many people takes a fair amount of time and they come out on their own terms. I would just like to plea to everyone to come out, because it actually changes lives. And we know, since 2012, we've actually had more people come out. 2012, we had 8.4 million adults in this country identify as LGBTQ. And in 2018 it went to 14 million. That's a 66 percent increase. If we want to create an inclusive environment, an environment that supports equality we have to come out. We have to create that environment. And I just -- I would implore people to do so if they can and do so safely.
NNAMDIOkay. Got to take a short. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation. You can still call 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're discussing the importance of national coming out day for the LGBTQ community and for the country as a whole. We're talking with Alphonso David, President of the Human Rights Campaign, and Kevin Naff, the Editor and Co-owner of the Washington Blade, the nation's oldest LBGTQ news publication. Kevin Naff, when we took that break -- or before we took that break you dropped off, but you were telling us about how the Washington Blade has evolved over its 51 years and what it's focusing on today.
NAFFSure. Thanks, Kojo. I was just saying that the biggest change is probably in the scope of what we cover. So it started out a very small publication focused on Dupont Circle. And today while we certainly cover local D.C. news, we have a very robust national politics focus. We have a reporter in the briefing room at the White House and also in the president's pool rotation. He has tested negative for COVID.
NAFFWe also have an extensive international news focus, which includes writers in countries all over South America, Central America, the Caribbean. We've had a four year project documenting the plight of LGBTQ migrants from Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean. So the scope of what we cover is much broader than it was 50 years ago.
NNAMDIHere now is Sloane in Reston, Virginia. Sloane, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SLOANEThank you, Kojo. And thank you for all the work that you do at HRC, Alphonso. I just wanted to say a couple of things. I was fortunate enough to have come out like years ago and have had supportive parents. I was at that '87 march on Washington. And I had two thoughts. One, a helpful resource for folks is the book, "God and the Gay Christian" by Matthew Vines that helps more conservative Christian families that are struggling to square their faith and their commitment to loving and accepting their LGBTQ family members.
SLOANEAnd indeed, as more and more folks come out, people see that supporting equality and religious liberty, supporting LGBTQ folks and recognizing that many of us are also people of faith and are also Christians and Jews and every faith that's coming to be understood as, you know, two things that go together.
SLOANEThe other thing I wanted to mention is that if at first we come out to someone and they're not immediately supportive, I think we do need to get the supportive from the supportive family members and friends that we can. But I wouldn't give up on the folks, who are not yet fully supportive. We have to remember that we may have taken years to get to the point of self-acceptance and confidence to be our authentic selves and to get up the courage to tell that family member. And they may be just getting to a point where maybe this is the first time they're thinking about, oh my God, this person who I already know and love is LGBT.
SLOANESo they're just starting to think about it after maybe we've been thinking about it for years. So if the first conversation doesn't go great, do the self-care thing, but then give people a chance over time.
NNAMDIThank you very much for sharing those thoughts with us, Sloane. Alphonso David, what does the Human Rights Campaign have planned for Sunday's 32nd national coming out day?
DAVIDSo the Human Rights Campaign has been hosting events across the country for more than 30 years. This coming out day we are planning to host virtual events in Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Arizona, California, Michigan, Wisconsin, Colorado just to name a few. These events are going to range from phone banking to volunteer recruitment from coming out poetry slams to a virtual coffee house.
DAVIDMost of them are a chance for people to gather virtually and discuss what is at stake in this year's election while also celebrating the progress that we have made to be more visible as LGBTQ people. So we're trying to be very intentional about connecting coming out day to this year's election so people can understand the importance of organizing and voting and advancing pro equality candidates up and down the ballot.
NNAMDIKevin Naff, what does the Washington Blade have planned for Sunday's coming out day?
NAFFWe're actually doing an in-person event, safely, of course, at the Wharf. We're sponsoring a national coming out day celebration all day down at the Wharf. And you can go to washingtonblade.com/comingout and you can register there for fitness classes, yoga classes, all socially distant, of course. And there's also a list there of all of the Wharf businesses that are participating and offering special discounts and deals and things for the day. And it's just sort of our way of acknowledging the day, but also trying to shine a light on some of our local small businesses that have been really struggling during the pandemic.
NNAMDIAt President Obama's last press conference in office he addressed the LBGTQ rights advance during his administration, which included a Supreme Court ruling legalizing same sex marriage. Over three decades ago during that first march, did advocates ever imagine that might happen, Kevin Naff?
NAFFCertainly it was not at the top of anyone's list in 1987. You reference President Obama's remarks in his final press conference. That question was actually asked by the Washington Blade reporter Chris Johnson. And he gave a terrific answer and a usually thoughtful answer from him. When we asked him how much LGBTQ rights would factor into his legacy and he refused to take credit for it for the progress that had happened under his watch.
NAFFAnd instead he said that the real credit goes to all of the people, who came out over the course of decades. They're the ones, who paved the way and made all of our legislative victories possible. I thought that was a really smart and generous answer. He certainly did a lot to advance LGBTQ rights, but to his point none of that progress would have been possible without 50 years of people coming out and speaking truthfully about their lives.
NNAMDIHe also said this at his last press conference as president. Here it is.
PRESIDENT OBAMAI don't think it is something that will be reversible, because American society has changed. The attitudes of young people in particular have changed.
NNAMDIKevin Naff, a lot of the LGBTQ rights that were gained during the Obama years were cemented by the Supreme Court. On Monday, Congress will begin confirmation hearings for Trump's appointee, Conservative Judge Amy Coney Barrett. How concerned are you about a potential Justice Barrett?
NAFFI'm very concerned. We should all be concerned, and I'm not as optimistic as President Obama on that front. I think anything can be reversed and nothing is in cement. The right wing has made it very clear that repealing Roe is their number one priority and repealing Obergefell is number two.
NAFFJust this week on Monday, two justices Alito and Thomas came out in an extraordinary statement, that the mainstream media I think really missed or downplayed, in which both of them asserted that the Obergefell ruling was a mistake and that the only way to correct it was for the court to act again. So they are openly calling for if not the overturning of Obergefell, certainly limiting its scope. So I'm very alarmed. I think we all should be. And we're living in precarious times.
NNAMDII'd like to extend the same question to you, Alphonso David. Do you believe as President Obama said that society has changed and that the gains made in the past few decades can't be undone? Go ahead, please, Alphonso.
DAVIDI agree with President Obama in part. I think a lot has changed. I think society -- more than 70 percent of voters in this country support LGBTQ equality, but we cannot rest on our laurels. And Obergefell was decided by one vote. And there is a possibility that with a newly constituted Supreme Court we could see marriages between same-sex couples be completely whittled down to skim milk marriages, which is what Justice Ginsburg warned about.
DAVIDWe have to fight to make sure that this justice is not -- her nomination is not advanced. And we also have to make sure that we fight to advance pro equality candidates in office. But I am deeply concerned that we could see a watering down of marriages between same-sex couples.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. And I'm going to ask both of our guests, Kevin Naff and Alphonso David, can you stay with us for a few more minutes?
NNAMDIThen we'll take a short break and come back to this conversation. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're discussing why national coming out day is so important to the LGBTQ community and the nation. Alphonso David, you were just taking about the Supreme Court ruling. You referred to it as Obergefell -- a lot of people might not be familiar with that. Can you, please, explain?
DAVIDSure. Obergefell vs. Hodges was a court decision where the Supreme Court concluded that marriage is a fundamental right. And that fundamental right includes same-sex couples. Denying same-sex couples the right to marry would violate the constitution. And so that was a decision that was issued. There was a five-four ruling. Five justices agreed. Four justices did not. And that decision meant that same-sex couples can marry in every state in this country. It removed many of the constitutional amendments and the statutes that existed in states limiting marriage to only different sex couples.
DAVIDAnd it was a watershed moment. We have hundreds of thousands of same-sex couples who are now married. And the concern is with the nomination and appointment to the Supreme Court of Amy Coney Barrett we have the possibility that marriages between same-sex couples will be watered down. That they will allow individuals to discriminate against same-sex couples when they attempt to get married and when they seek services after their marriages. And that is the principle concern we have.
NNAMDIHere's Marlena in Washington D.C. Marlena, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARLENAHi. Thank you so much, Kojo. So I've been coming out over the years to various people. And as I'm doing so it's becoming more and more clear to me how it's not really just a one and done event. I was wondering if you could reflect on how it's really more of a life long journey and what that means. Thank you.
NAFFAbsolutely, it's a life long journey. It never ends. And I'll give you a recent example. My husband and I did a road trip two weeks ago to North Carolina. And we stopped at a rural Western North Carolina restaurant bar. And we clearly were from out of town. And, you know, when you walk into a situation like that, you have to ask yourself, you know, do I hold his hand? Do I put my arm around him? Do we look like -- do we engage the way a couple would engage? Or do we tone it down and, you know, scope things out? So you have to kind of navigate those experiences for the rest of your life.
NAFFBut again, whether it's coming out to your parents or your siblings or your coworkers or the mailman it's important to do. And just be aware that it is a process that really -- I don't think it ever ends. There are always going to be new people entering your life and, you know, just because you do it once doesn't mean you're not going to have to do it many more times. So it's a good point.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Marlena. Here is Dale in Herndon, Virginia. Dale, your turn.
DALEHi, Kojo. Morning, panel. Yes, sir. I'm going to try to make it brief. I'm from Jamaica. I came here three years ago and I'm coming out from being Jamaican and, you know, from a homophobic society and really complicated. My mother and my siblings have slowly accepted my coming out. My father however --
NNAMDIOh, for some reason or the other our caller dropped and I'm sorry about that, but quickly now to Aaron in Seattle, Washington. Eron, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ERONHi. It's actually pronounced Eron. Hi, good morning. I'm Eron. And I'm in Seattle, Washington and I am openly gay modern orthodox Jew. I think that coming out is a really integral part of every LGBT person life. And as everybody eludes to it is a process. And it's an important one to build healthy and honest relationships not just with yourself, but with others and with any deity figure that you subscribe to. I also think that that as a disabled person, as a physically disabled person as well, that a coming out allows for environments to be made safer and more inclusive for everybody.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for you call and for sharing your story with us. The vice presidential debate was last night. And like last week's presidential debate there were no questions about the LGBTQ community. Does that concern you, Alphonso David?
DAVIDDeeply concerning, it concerns me that we have more transgender Americans that have been killed in this country that we're on track to have more transgender killed in this country than any other year. We have LGBTQ people who are living in poverty and suffering. One out of five LGBTQ people live in poverty in this country.
DAVIDWe see that the Trump administration has been looking to basically erase LGBTQ people in so many different facets of life from housing to employment to public accommodations. It was disappointing that the issues effecting the LGBTQ community were not raised. We along with a dozen other progressive and civil rights organizations had requested that Susan Paige raise this issue, raise a variety of issues, but she unfortunately didn't do so. And we think it was a disservice to voters.
NNAMDIKevin Naff, Washington has the largest LGBTQ community in the country. But as Alphonso was just saying, we've seen continued violence in our region against transgender and nonconforming people including several murdered this year. In your view, what needs to be done to address the disproportionate violence against this community?
NAFFWell, that could be its own show.
NAFFIndeed, Washington D.C. does have according to the Williams institute at UCLA the highest per capita LGBTQ population in the country. Almost 10 percent in a survey last year identified as such. But we still have a lot of work to do. So transwomen of color continue to be victims of violence. Often that is rooted in lack of economic opportunity, job insecurity, housing insecurity, food insecurity.
NAFFAnd so there's a lot of work to do in that community specifically, but there are still legislative fixes to be made. We need to ban the gay and trans so called panic defense in hate crimes, which has still not happened in Washington despite our reputation and despite a LGBTQ friendly Council and mayor. So that needs to get done. So there's a lot of work still ahead, but certainly much progress has been made.
NNAMDIFinal question for you, Alphonso David. There are just 26 days left for the election. How is the Human Rights Campaign involved in this election?
DAVIDWe are mobilizing 57 million equality voters all over this country. Equality voters are those who prioritize equality issues at the ballot box. And in the so called swing states 10 million equality voters live. Of those 10 million, 3.4 do not vote every single election. So we are reaching out to those equality voters through virtual phone banks and text banks. We have launched a virtual application. It's called TEAM, t-e-a-m, and you can actually download the application and communicate with every single person in your personal contacts.
DAVIDYou can identify whether or not those individuals have voted every election and incentivize them to vote. We are making sure that we mobilize the vote. That we get people out to vote and make sure they vote pro equality. And also finally educate them about the options that are available to them. Many people may not know about vote by mail, absentee balloting and all of the resources that are available to them. In every state the rules are different. So we provided that information online at hrc.org/vote. So people can inform themselves about the options that are available to them.
NNAMDIAlphonso David and Kevin Naff, thank you both for joining us. Glad you could stay over a little longer.
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