Biden calls for action against homophobia on National Coming Out Day — what is the holiday and why is he speaking out?

Oliver O'Connell
New York
Monday 11 October 2021 18:48
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The White House released a statement on Monday morning marking National Coming Out Day, with President Joe Biden offering both a celebration of the LGBTQ+ community and rallying call against discriminatory bills that proliferate in state legislatures.

The president said that on National Coming Out Day the US celebrates the courage of members of LGBTQ+ people who “live their lives with pride, create community with open arms and hearts, and showcase the strength of being your authentic self”.

“Today and every day, I want every member of the LGBTQ+ community to know that you are loved and accepted just the way you are – regardless of whether or not you’ve come out,” he added.

What is National Coming Out Day?

National Coming Out Day is an annual awareness day observed on 11 October in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer identities in “coming out of the closet” and living life openly.

It was first celebrated in 1988 on the anniversary of the 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.

Founders Robert Eichberg, a psychologist from New Mexico, and Jean O’Leary, an openly lesbian political leader and activist from New York, established the day to maintain positivity and celebrate coming out.

The idea is that homophobia thrives in an atmosphere of silence and ignorance and that if people know that they have loved ones who are part of the LGBTQ+ community, they are less likely to have homophobic views.

Mr Eichberg said in 1993: “Most people think they don’t know anyone gay or lesbian, and in fact, everybody does. It is imperative that we come out and let people know who we are and disabuse them of their fears and stereotypes.”

National Coming Out Day is also observed in Ireland, Switzerland, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

The Keith Haring-designed logo for National Coming Out Day

Artist Keith Haring designed the NCOD logo in his signature style depicting a cartoon figure stepping out of a darkened closet.

Among those that came out this year: singer JoJo Siwa, as queer; country music star TJ Osbourne, as gay; singer Demi Lovato, as pansexual; actor Ronen Rubenstein, as bisexual; former star of The Bachelor Colton Underwood, as gay; actor Tommy Dorfman, as a transgender woman; and Carl Nassib, defensive end for the Las Vegas Raiders, became the first openly gay man in the NFL.

The Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ+ civil rights organisation in the US, estimates that 20 million adults and 2 million youths identify as part of the community.

Have presidents always acknowledged the holiday?

Mr Biden’s statement is the first for National Coming Out Day from the White House after a four-year near-silence on any statement of support for LGBTQ+ people during the Trump administration — either during Pride Month (June) or on NCOD.

President Barack Obama posted messages of support to the community throughout his presidency and famously had the White House lit with the colours of the Pride flag to celebrate the passage of marriage equality.

The statement by Mr Biden is a return to an embrace of the LGBTQ+ community by the White House.

“To LGBTQ+ people across the country, and especially those who are contemplating coming out: know that you are loved for who you are, you are admired for your courage, and you will have a community — and a nation — to welcome you,” said Mr Biden.

“My Administration will always have your back, and we will continue fighting for the full measure of equality, dignity, and respect you deserve.”

What has the Biden administration done for the LGBTQ+ community?

President Biden’s statement reaffirms his administration’s commitment to “ensuring that LGBTQ+ people can live openly, proudly, and freely in every corner of our nation”.

He also notes that there are LGBTQ+ officials serving openly at the highest levels of government. The president also says he is proud that “together we have made historic progress advancing protections and equal opportunities for the LGBTQ+ community”.

“From acting on Day One to prevent and combat discrimination, to enabling all qualified Americans – including transgender Americans – to serve their country in uniform, to defending the human rights of LGBTQ+ people around the world, my administration has been clear that we will continue to champion the dignity, equality, and wellbeing of the LGBTQ+ community,” Mr Biden wrote.

Just 12 days into the new administration, former presidential candidate and Mr Biden’s Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg became the first openly gay member of cabinet in US history to be confirmed by the Senate.

What are the current threats to LGBTQ+ rights in the US?

Mr Biden warns that although extraordinary progress has been made in ensuring equality for the LGBTQ+ community, there is more to be done.

“Anti-LGBTQ+ bills still proliferate in state legislatures. Bullying and harassment — particularly of young transgender Americans and LGBTQ+ people of color — still abounds, diminishing our national character.” the president says.

“We must continue to stand together against these acts of hate, and stand up to protect the rights, opportunities, physical safety, and mental health of LGBTQ+ people everywhere,” he continues.

“From defeating discriminatory bills to passing the Equality Act, we have more work to do to ensure that every American can live free of fear, harassment, and discrimination because of who they are or whom they love.”

In February, the House of Representatives passed the Equality Act which bans discrimination against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It also expands the areas to which those discrimination protections apply.

President Biden said on the campaign trail that it would be his top legislative priorities for the first 100 days of his presidency.

The House vote was mostly along party lines, with the support of all Democrats and just three Republicans.

A companion bill was introduced in the Senate where it was referred to the Judiciary Committee, where it awaits debate. It currently has 48 co-sponsors.

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