When I woke up that spring morning during my senior year of college, I hadn't planned that this would be day I'd come out to my parents. It was the pitcher of local, Philly-brewed Yuengling lager I had split with a buddy at the local frat-elite neighborhood bar that inspired the courage. Fine, we had two. If you've never tried it before, do so once before you die. I have similar sentiments about same-sex experimentation (or opposite-sex experimentation, if you're a "gold star" gay), but that's another story for another time. And I have a feeling I'm preaching to the choir here, anyway. Sorry, where was I?
My fingers darted purposefully across my old, silver Samsung flip-top cellphone, which now probably belongs in a museum. I can vividly recall how unusually sweaty my palms were. I remember dragging my palm audibly across the armrest of my black leather couch (who didn't have black leather in college?) and clearing my throat. "Hi, Mom, it's your son." I wanted subconsciously to remind her that I was flesh and blood, before I offered a confession several years in the making that I thought might end in one of a dozen melodramatic ways I had envisioned while counting down to this day. I mumbled through some pleasantries and then went silent. She did, too, as if in anticipation. "Mom, I'm gay, and I've wanted to tell you this for a long time now. I'm sorry."
I'm sorry? Why was that a part of my statement? Why would I have injected a clichéd conclusion phrase, as if to soften the blow that wasn't my fault? As if there were any fault or blame to be deflected? That stuck with me, even as she assured me that she loved me, that she had suspected for a couple of years, and that she was proud of me and grateful for being honest with her.
The LGBT community has nothing to apologize for. In fact, as the summer circuit of "pride" parties indicates, it's quite the opposite. We celebrate our differences. But this article is not about to tilt toward the conundrum or hypocrisy of celebrating gay life by being drunken circus freaks in the streets for a few weekends across the country every summer; that is yet another story for another time.
The importance of coming out -- of celebrating unity, self-expression and, dare I say, defiance (against conservative conformity and convention) -- is written in the faces of the known and unknown young people across the country who, over these 365 days since the last National Coming Out Day and Week, have taken their own lives or attempted to do so, and even those who simply lost sleep or intentionally skipped a school day because of homophobic discrimination or for just feeling alone.
No more, says a group of activists in California, who last year, in honor of National Coming Out Day and Week, launched the #CountMeOut campaign. Intentionally conceived as a social media ambush, without any ties to organizations, nonprofits, companies, individuals or entities of any kind (and without the typical subversive fundraising or commercial/marketing back end), #CountMeOut is a call for anyone who is a member of, or a supporter of, the LGBT community to "donate" their main profile picture on Facebook, Twitter, etc. to the campaign by neon-colorizing their image and including the words "OUT" or "ALLY" in the image.
Last year, what started with a small group who asked their friends to participate over the course of the week mushroomed to thousands around the county and the globe. This year the goal is to go even wider and to engage people even earlier.
According to some shocking data from 2009 and 2010, via GLSEN:
- Students who describe themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered are five times more likely to miss school because of feeling unsafe, and 28 percent are forced to drop out.
- The vast majority of victims of anti-lesbian/gay violence -- possibly more than 80 percent -- never report the incident, often due to fear of being "outed."
- Seventy-five percent of people committing hate crimes are under age 30 -- one in three are under 18 -- and some of the most pervasive anti-gay violence occurs in schools.
- A survey of 191 employers revealed that 18 percent would fire, 27 percent would refuse to hire and 26 percent would refuse to promote a person they perceived to be lesbian, gay or bisexual.
- Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are at a four times higher risk for suicide than their straight peers.
- In high schools across America 87 percent of LGBT youth have reported missing at least one day of school due to safety concerns and threats of violence based on their sexual orientation.
For all these reasons, it is important to come out and live openly. There is strength in numbers, and by coming out you can connect to others like you and help pave the way for younger LGBT people to live openly. You will be living an honest life, allowing yourself and others to love you for who you really are.
If you are reading this and you haven't done so yet, do it. Join your brothers and sisters in the #CountMeOut campaign. You count. Your single image matters. You are part of the activist army; without you we are weaker. Actions like this may seem small, but add them all together and it can become a defining, defiant, unifying moment for the community. Spread the word. Light the match. Blaze a trail.
Here are the instructions (or just do it your own way):
- Go here: http://www.pixlr.com/editor/
- Rainbow your pic: On the top bar, select "Adjustment," then select "Color Lookup," then select the rainbow image.
- I.D. Yourself: Click on the letter "A" on the left. Then click on your image, and type "OUT" or "ALLY" (any font, black or white). On the top bar, click "File," then "Save."
- Make it your profile pic on Facebook, Twitter, etc.
- Tag it! Post it: #COUNTMEOUT, www.facebook.com/NCODCountMeOut.
Follow Andrew Pond Oldershaw on Twitter: www.twitter.com/neonpond