It's National Coming Out Day, again. Every year we have the privilege of coming out, sharing our journeys, and reminiscing on the struggles we have had as individuals. It’s a beautiful time that is created in remembrance of Matthew Shepherd, a 21-year-old college student who was tortured and murdered for being gay, October 21st, 1998.
The laborious work striving towards equality and equity for the LGBTQ community is a struggle as old as the United States themselves. When European colonists came to the Americas, they did not only bring disease and conquest. They brought with them a binary of gender that came from their protestant religious texts. Many native tribes from Canada to Central America, including the Caribbean, had many titles and names for their expression and social roles of their people.
In the Journal, The Social Construction of Gender from Two-Spirit Traditions, Maia Sheppard and J.B. Mayo Jr write, “Traditionally, many Native cultures acknowledged and accepted greater variation in how individuals expressed gender identification, which is in contrast with the Western tradition of adhering to a strict binary (male/female) conceptualization of gender.” As we began to research this subject we find more and more acceptance and understanding of a concept of acceptance and not disbelief.
In the United States, the conversation begins to shift during the late 1930s, creating a narrative of intolerance and ridicule. Gay and, what would now be called Transgender, performers were forced to retire or hide their sexual orientation and gender identity. Life was becoming a war zone for community members. Laws were being passed labeling same-sex attraction as mental illness, and police officers were arresting gay men. This very closely follows the rise of the Nazi party and their declaration of hate for all gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. In 1933 books from German researchers and Doctors about the LGBT community were burned and Gestapo began detaining LGBT people and locking them in concentration camps, along with Jews, Romani, and the disabled. Leading scholar Rudiger Lautmann believes the death rate of homosexuals in concentration camps may have been as high as 60%.
Matters would continue to decline well through the civil rights movement. In the 1950s there was a fundamental disconnect between the understanding of gay communities and the fight for civil rights, based solely on the morally unsound idea that being gay was a lifestyle choice. This was largely at the hands of the Communist scare that targeted homosexuals as a threat to Christian American life.
As the harassment from Police officers increased throughout the nation in the 1960s, so did the organizing skills of those left to their own devices. At this moment in time, we learned a crucial lesson, no one should have to choose between being black or brown and being LGBT. The intersectionality of one's self is important in fighting for equality and acknowledging that, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Since most cities in the United States had cross-dressing bans, law enforcement officials would use that as an cause to perform raids on gay bars. This birthed institutional divisions within the LGB and T community. Having transgender people in your bar meant you could be more at risk of being raided. Being arrested meant your picture would be put in the paper the following day saying, arrested at a gay bar. That didn’t stop us from fighting for our rights. First, we had the Dewy Diner Sit in (led by Non-gender conforming folks), the Compton Cafeteria Riots (led by transwomen) and then the most famous LGBT fight for rights, the Stonewall Riots.
In 1973 the American Psychiatric Association issued a resolution stating that homosexuality was not a mental illness or sickness. The resolution stated, “We will no longer insist on a label of sickness for individuals who insist that they are well and demonstrate no generalized impairment in social effectiveness.” The statement continued to say the APA supports “civil rights legislation at local, state, and federal levels that would ensure homosexual citizens the same protections now guaranteed to others.” In 1978 Harvey Milk was assassinated, 10 years after Martin Luther King Jr in 1968. Harvey Milk once recorded a statement should he ever been killed and he famously proclaimed, “Should a bullet enter my brain allow it to shatter every closet door.”
How did we get here? Through civil action and civil disobedience. In 1963 Martin Luther King Jr led the march on Washington. In 1993 we had the first LGBT March on Washington. We have learned a lot about our struggles and the systemic barriers we all face fighting for civil rights, and equal protection under the law promised to use by the 14th amendment of the Constitution.
It is currently 2019 and we continue to fight for our civil rights promised to us by the living document that is the Constitution of the United States of America. Transgender women are being murdered at an alarming rate, primarily Black transwomen and Immigrant transwomen seeking asylum. A Transgender young man in El Paso was the target of his brother’s mass shooting that was racially aimed at Spanish speakers. LGBTQ2 people are kicked out of their homes, targeted in schools by students and admins, and constantly have to negotiate their humanity when lawmakers attack the intrinsic identity of who we are.
All of this is why we have a National Coming Out Day, and this is why I choose to be out.
I am a man of Transgender experience, he/him/his, pansexual, Texan, member of the Democratic party, Mexican and White, Pearlander, student, son, brother, husband.