Today is National Coming Out Day. It is also my eldest daughter's 25th birthday. 25 years. A quarter century. In the wake of the death of my mother and grandmother, I realize how very proud I am of the woman she has become. She's had her ups and downs, her challenges and her triumphs. She gave birth to two of the most special grandchildren in existence. I see my own hurdles and celebrations when I hear her get impassioned about the latest issue.
Perhaps because of this sense of nostalgia, I reflect on the last 25 years in the gay rights movement. 25 years ago, Cleve Jones (whose birthday is also today), began the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and a few years later began the NAMES Project Memorial Quilt. 25 years ago Cleve stepped up and stood in his truth about who he was to respond to an epidemic that no one was paying attention to. He embodied, like so many others, what it means to be out, living in authenticity. He said, "If AIDS had taught us anything, it was that we must be true to ourselves if we are to survive."
Our community was experiencing genocide and public health officials and politicians, immersed in their own form of bigotry and homophobia, stalled in their response. And people like Cleve, stood up, organized and wrapped their arms around a community overwhelmed by death and grief. Cleve understood back then, the importance of claiming your power.
Matthew Shepherd was murdered 10 years ago this week and earlier this year, Lawrence King was murdered in California for being who they were created to be. Their deaths are symbols for all those who are victims of hate crimes, who die by suicide or who die from the inside out in their closets.
Sure, National Coming Out Day is a day to celebrate the gifts and achievements of our community. It is a day to look back and acknowledge how much we have been through. But is also a call to come out as people of faith. A call to listen, to be present, to affirm and understand.
In the coming days, when we meet each other on the street, let us pause and remember. Let us pause and connect. Let us affirm for one another what a gift we really are.