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Message from Jason (October 2016)

Dear friends,

I hope this note finds you as well as possible. By the time you get this October will likely be almost over. Did you know that this autumn month is considered LGBTQ History Month? Did you know that October 11th is considered National Coming Out Day? I wanted to take a moment to share some reflections about both of these things.

There are lots of different feelings that people have about National Coming Out Day. For some people this day is a celebration and a day to tell stories about how they first knew, who they first told, what the first kiss was like, how the first dress felt, or any number of other funny or heart breaking stories. For other people it is a day that ignores their experience. Not everyone chooses to come out. Not everyone has a choice not to come out. Visibility, being seen, is not what everyone is looking for. When it comes to policing in queer communities of color, being seen often then means being arrested. Coming out, or being known, turns into repression. Closets are not only places people choose out of fear, closets can also be places of survival.

I think a lot about the stories many have shared here about coming out. Telling others you are LGBTQ while in prison can be a big risk. Sharing your status as being HIV+ can bring harassment or isolation. Yet so many of you still choose to do so and doing so can take great courage. This is not to say that all coming out is intentional though. Sometimes other people can tell, sometimes we get clocked, sometimes we are forced out of the closet because prisons lock us in a prison that does not match our gender.

Coming out can look different for everyone. Some of us sashay into a crowd and proclaim ourselves as if we were fabulous divas on a stage. Others of us come out quietly in whispers with our closest friends, sharing something that feels precious. There are those of us who come out with our fists in the air demanding our rights be respected. There is no wrong way to come out. There is no wrong way to be an LGBTQ person. While we are part of a larger community, and as Black and Pink we are part of a big family, we are also very different from each other. Each one of us has our own unique needs. As people with differing races, genders, abilities, religions, and other identities, we have different experiences of privilege and oppression. These are differences we must not ignore and these are differences we must understand so that we can be stronger together.

What about your story? Have you ever come out about your gender or sexual orientation? Have you come out to others about another part of you? Have other people ever “outed” you without your permission? Have you ever felt like the closet might be your safest option? Has anyone ever come out to you? How did you respond? How would you want someone to respond to you?

One of the tricky pieces about LGBTQ History Month is that it requires us to know the stories of people who are known to be part of our community. It requires us to know stories of those who have come out in some way or another. As such, LGBTQ History Month will always be incomplete. There are countless people throughout history who were attracted to people of the same gender or who identified as a gender they were not assigned at birth who we will never know about. While we may know the stories of people like Marsha P. Johnson, Harvey Milk, Audre Lorde, Christine Jorgensen, Rock Hudson, Sylvia Rivera and so many others there are even more of our LGBTQ ancestors we will never know about. Their spirits may be watching over us, seeing how we make a path for liberation and justice today. I like to imagine that their spirits may be part of what gives us the strength to keep up our struggles, knowing that once there were no prisons, that day will come again.

In loving solidarity,
Jason

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