A couple seconds and a tragedy changed the trajectory of my queer life forever. Five days before NCOD 1998, Matt Shepard became a martyr for the LGBTQQIA community and its war on bigotry/homophobia and hate crimes in a way that I’d argue no one had seen since Ryan White’s AIDS-related death eight years prior. When I heard the news I wept for hours. I wept because people were so shocked, because James Byrd, Jr., a black gay man, had met a horrific end four months earlier and the outrage was minimal compared to the media attention to Shepard’s death, because I knew that I was only playing with being visible. My vulnerability was protected by all my carefully cultivated home, social and work environments.
If I am honest, I wept because I couldn’t call home and say, “I’m gay and so afraid right now. Can you just come over and hug me?” Why? I had no mentors, and I didn’t trust any adult member of my family would care to support me.
Once my grief subsided, I understood that I had to be visible, if not for myself, for my future and the legacy of an entire community. I understood that if a community is allowed to pretend that we don’t exist, we buy the the falsehood and behind the closet door we remain. Being out and proud really is a call to do more than be seen and fabulous at the gay pride parade. It’s a call to shine the light for all those folks waiting for a ray of hope, a hand, a conversation, a visual of what is possible if they dare to be.
So mark October 11 on your calendar and do something special. It’s a Saturday, so gather your allies around you and thank them for being out --they’ll appreciate it. (You know it’s hard hanging out with societal weirdoes.) Do an “It Gets Better” video. Go to a rally, and do more than stand and stare. Take a deep breath, and come out come out whomever you are.
I promise that there are those of us celebrating your leap into the rainbow abyss, and as I vowed in 1998, I’ll do my best to catch you.