National Coming Out Day

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By Erin La Ninfa and Alex Hallmark

National Coming Out Day (NCOD) is a day to celebrate the anniversary of the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1987 and support coming out as LGBTQ+: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer. NCOD emphasizes that living openly, truthfully, and out is the most basic form of activism. San Francisco Goodwill President and CEO, William Rogers, came out at a National Coming Out Day celebration, on the steps of UC Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza as an undergrad and has been out in the workplace ever since.

“We have to be allies to others in the LGTBQ community — you can’t pick and choose. As a gay man of color, I need to participate in raising and helping to resolve issues for gay men and people of color, but also lesbians, transgender and queer people.” – San Francisco Goodwill President and CEO , William Rogers

Goodwill President & CEO William Rogers

Rogers was honored on September 10, 2020 by the SF Business Times as one of 12 Outstanding Voices – local LGBTQ+ business leaders making significant contributions to the community. His courage to live and lead authentically creates a safe environment for others who may not have acceptance in their lives outside of work. When leaders use their influence to foster diversity and inclusion it inspires others to lead lives that are more authentic. Those who choose to come out continue the important work of normalizing the acceptance of queer identities.

According to The Trevor Project, 29% of LGBTQ youth experience homelessness as a result of being kicked out or running away from unaccepting family members. LGBTQ members who receive support for their identities are statistically less likely to commit or contemplate suicide and self-harm. Rogers left home at the age of 16 when he made the life-changing decision to not participate in his own diminishment. While Rogers believes there is now general acceptance in Bay Area nonprofits, we have not yet achieved full LGBTQ+ equality. LGBTQ+ business leaders need to be out and unapologetic and organizations need to be sure their policies and practices are inclusive.

woman waving rainbow flag

In preparation for NCOD, Sunday, October 11, we want to highlight influential coming out stories from public figures as a reminder that there is a strong community of successful people that made it through difficult phases in their lives to become the people they were meant to be. You are not alone.

1. Laverne Cox

Laverne Cox at SF Trans March 2015

Laverne Cox is an Emmy-nominated actress, public speaker, film producer, and LGBTQ+ activist. She has become the woman she always knew she was, but she struggled in her younger years to come out as Trans. At the age of 11, young Laverne contemplated suicide as she was being bullied at school. In an interview with Wilson Cruz for Out Magazine, Laverne shared her coming out story. As she was still figuring out her own identity, she first came out to her mother as gay. She then realized that what she was feeling did not have to do with sexual orientation, but rather gender identity. While her  mother was very upset when she came out as gay, it helped her  for Laverne’s next coming out announcement as a Trans woman. Laverne said the day her mother sent her a plate that said ‘No. 1 Daughter’ she realized that  her mother fully saw her and accepted her. Laverne recently both produced and starred in the  2020 Netflix documentary, “Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen,” that interviews trans people in Hollywood and explores how the trans narrative is depicted in American culture.

2. Billie Jean King

Billie Jean King

Billie Jean King is a prominent figure in professional tennis and one of the first openly gay athletes. Billie had been private about her romantic relationships with women. In 1965, she married Larry King. While married, she wrestled with her true sexuality. In 198, Billie was outed in the media as a lesbian and advised to deny it. She refused and lost her endorsements but became a trailblazer for the LGBTQ+ community and women through her equal pay activism. She was courageous enough to be true to herself and fight for equality and has been in a happy gay  relationship for many years. Billie is well respected in the tennis community as one of the top-ranked women’s tennis players in U.S. history.

3. Clive Davis 

Clive Davis is a Grammy winning record producer, music industry executive, and lawyer. He has signed numerous iconic music artists such as  Janis Joplin, Pink Floyd, Earth, Wind & Fire, and Billy Joel. Clive’s public relationships were with his wives. In 2013, at 81 years old, his memoir, “The Soundtrack of My Life,” was released. Clive’s memoir revealed that he identifies as bisexual and that he hoped by coming out more people would become accepting of bisexual identities. His story teaches us that it is never too late to share more about who you are with the world.

4. Billy Porter

Billy Porter

Billy Porter is an actor and singer who has performed on Broadway. He currently stars in the FX show, “Pose,” and is recognized in pop culture for his met gala looks. Last year, Billy opened up about coming out as gay in the 1980s and the trauma he experienced in childhood due to his sexuality. He wrote a harrowing essay for the Gay Times detailing his painful childhood experiences. “We demand respect for our humanity and we will give respect for everyone else so that we can all move forward. Everybody’s humanity is valid, even if we don’t understand it or like it. That’s what I would tell my younger self and anybody today that you must do,” Billy wrote in his Gay Times essay. He shared that through the arts and theatre community, he met others who accepted him and by surrounding himself with those positive influences on his life, he was able to accept himself. He is now a strong advocate and activist for LGBTQ+ issues.

There are countless coming out stories from both public personalities and everyday people who have pride in their full identities and accomplish their dreams. In the words of our President and CEO, William Rogers, “Pride is really about acknowledging the inherent differences that we all carry with us and celebrating those differences.” Congratulations to William and the other 11 honorees and thank you to the SF Business Times for their recognition.

Resources for LGBTQ+ Youth:

The Trevor Project: Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention

It Gets Better Project: LGBTQ+ Storytelling

Stomp Out Bullying: Making Schools Safe for the LGBTQ+ Community

Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Teens: Facts for Teens and Their Parents

National Coming Out Day 2020 is Sunday, October 11.

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