Today is National Coming Out Day, a day recognized both to raise awareness for the greater LGBTQI+ community and provide a basic form of activism against homophobia through coming out to family, friends, colleagues, and living life as openly as possible as a member of this community.

One of the biggest criticisms I still hear is “I just don’t understand why they need to flaunt it, why they need to come out, you don’t see me shouting straight pride.” What critics who use these thought processes fail to recognize, however, is that the world and many of its laws are designed around straight pride.

People don’t flinch when a straight couple holds hands or shows affection; when they announce their engagement or do anything else at all that demonstrates they are part of a heterosexual coupling.

Straight couples don’t have to worry about getting married, because laws aren’t designed to tell them that there is something wrong with them having a dedicated spouse. We have denominations that will literally penalize a religious leader who dares to perform same-sex marriages or support their LGBTQI+ communities.

In the United States, there are still states with laws that allow for discrimination by employers — which can include firing — for LGBTQI+ individuals.

And around the world, even in so-called “civilized” countries, there are still laws that make simply existing as an LGBTQI+ person a crime punishable by imprisonment, beating, and death.

Coming out is a difficult decision, but it is also empowering. It is the ability to embrace yourself when others regularly work towards stripping away your humanity, damning your actual existence as being “evil” and “unnatural”. It’s a powerful statement to come out against all odds and proclaim “this is who I am, and I love myself, despite what you think of me.”

Today is a day for you, in the LGBTQI+ community, whether you are out, come out, or choose to wait. It is about you and your needs. If coming out is your need, it is the day to do so with hundreds of members of your greater community. If you’ve already come out, it’s a day to loudly and proudly support those who are taking this step today. And if you’re unable to, no matter the reason, it’s still a day to cheer on those who are, to be proud of them and lift them up in their courageous step.

It is not a day, however, to out someone else, or to force them to come out. It is not a day to make silly comments like “I knew it!” or “It’s about time!”. Be loving and gracious today. Put your own feelings aside to support the human beings who are taking one of the most difficult steps to accept themselves wholly and completely.

Congratulations to all who are coming out today. Be proud. Be powerful. Be you in your entirety.

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