(WKBN) – October 11 is National Coming Out Day, a day to honor and bring awareness to people in the LGBTQ+ community and their decision to share their gender identities and sexual orientation with others.
Although it may seem that we live in a pretty accepting society, there have been many hurdles the LGBTQ+ community has had to overcome and fight against over the years.
“There are still people who are struggling, which is actually why we have to have the day. There are still people struggling to come out, whether it be to family, friends, work because they are afraid,” said Steff Sobien, director of client care at Full Spectrum Community Outreach.
In 1924, the first documented gay rights organization in the United States was founded in Chicago by German immigrant Henry Gerber. However, in 1925, police raids caused the group to disband.
In the early 1960s, the gay rights movements would see some progress. In 1961, Illinois became the first state to get rid of its anti-sodomy laws, which criminalized homosexuality. Then in 1965, the term transgender would be coined by Dr. John Oliven, in his book “Sexual Hygiene and Pathology.”
Still, the discrimination made it hard for people to live in their truth.
“A lot of times, the hate and the bigotry comes out of just pure fear of the unknown and the not understanding, whereas the people in our community would just really like to live how we want to live,” Sobien said.
The 70s brought several more victories in the U.S., including when the New York Supreme Court ruled that transgender woman Renée Richards could play at the United States Open tennis tournament as a woman.
In addition, several openly LGBT individuals would land public office positions in Michigan and California.
“It’s been wonderful to see people dive into, ‘I’m not gonna hide anymore. I don’t feel like hiding anymore,” Sobien said.
But, in the 1980s and early 1990s the AIDS epidemic would cause some setbacks.
Then in the early 90s, former president Bill Clinton would enact the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy which would allow gay men and women to serve in the military but only if they kept their sexuality a secret. Former President Barack Obama would repeal this policy in 2011.
Decades later, some say it’s still important to bring awareness to struggles people in the LGBTQ community face.
“I think it’s important, even in this day and age, because there are still a lot of families and a lot of individuals clinging to old ideals that might still hold over some of those bigotries and those stigmas from 10, 20, 30, 40 years ago or more,” said Full Spectrum Community Outreach Event Director Terri Norling.
Norling says a lot of ways to break through that is through awareness and group and community support.
Now, in 2021, although there’s still a long way to go, the LGBTQ+ community has seen many accomplishments.
“Coming down to the equality act that we’re seeing now and marriage equality that came across the Supreme Court several years ago, that was a huge win. And with that win, there have been people who have been able to live their authentic selves and their true selves,” Sobien said.
One of the main goals of Full Spectrum is to provide a safe space and support to anyone in the LGBTQ+ community who may be in need.
In honor of National Coming Out Day, the center is holding a support event at West Side Bowl from 4 p.m.- midnight to celebrate but also to help anyone who may need some extra support to share their true identity with their loved ones.