ACLU of Nebraska Communications Intern Mar Lee, Executive Director Danielle Conrad, Legal & Policy Counsel Sara Rips, and Government Liaison Spike Eickholt pose outside the Nebraska State Capitol after a rally celebrating passage of a resolution affirming the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on workplace discrimination.

On October 11th, members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community celebrate National Coming Out Day.  Founded 32 years ago, National Coming Out Day began rooted in the belief that when people live openly as an LGBTQ person, they help to dispel the fears and stereotypes that exist in their families and communities. Today, National Coming Out Day serves as both a celebration of the bravery that accompanies coming out of the closet and a recognition of the many who cannot safely live as their authentic selves.

The term “coming out” has no singular meaning. Generally, coming out describes the process of both self-accepting one’s sexual orientation or gender identity and disclosing to others. Coming out is not a one-time or unilateral decision. Rather, coming out is a series of decisions made on a case-by-case basis to family, friends, medical care providers, schools, employers, and strangers.  Each disclosure requires an individual to consider the benefits and risks of coming out.

The benefits of coming out include reducing the stress that comes from hiding one’s true identity, receiving support from family, friends, and the LGBTQ community, helping to dispel negative stereotypes and myths about LGBTQ people, and most importantly the ability to live as one’s true and whole self.

The risks of coming out include rejection, hostility, harassment, discrimination, violence and the threat of violence, shunning, ostracization, homelessness, termination of employment, domestic abuse, and death.

Because those risks weigh so heavily against the benefits, many LGBTQ Nebraskans make the stressful and often agonizing choice to stay closeted at work, school, and in public, while at the same time being out selectively. The lack of clear legal protections against discrimination, harassment, and violence towards LGBTQ Nebraskans is a clear message from our government that is not Nebraska Nice.

Thankfully, there are so many people who work tirelessly day in and day out to fight for equality for LGBTQ Nebraskans in the places of power and halls of justice.

In celebration of National Coming Out Day, we at the ACLU of Nebraska are so grateful for the bravery of those who make their sexuality or gender identity, which is nobody’s business, an aspect of their role in society. This bravery is often most prominently seen in our LGBTQ elected officials who often endure vile bigotry and hate while working to ensure the dignity of all.  That said, you do not have to be an elected official or public figure to participate in acts of bravery. Mentioning one’s significant other in a conversation is an act of bravery. Putting up a sticker or sign from organizations like the ACLU, Human Rights Campaign, or OutNebraska is an act of bravery. Flying a rainbow flag is an act of bravery. Donating time, money, and energy to LGBTQ organizations that help those most at risk is an act of bravery. Correcting people on your pronouns and name is an act of bravery. Holding hands in public is an act of bravery. Living as your true self is an act of bravery.

There are so many Nebraskans who cannot risk being out because to do so could mean grave consequences. To them we acknowledge, that coming out to yourself and loving, accepting, and affirming yourself is an immense act of bravery.

This summer, the Supreme Court affirmed that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  Even though we celebrated the Court’s decision, we knew that our work was far from done.  Just last week, U.S. Supreme Court justices mentioned their interest in overturning Obergefell v. Hodges, which held that the U.S. Constitution guarantees the fundamental right to marriage to same-sex couples.  Additionally, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is proposing a new rule that would allow shelter employees to assess someone’s gender rather than relying on an individual’s self-assessment. These attempts to undermine the dignity, humanity, and rights of LGBTQ people do not go unnoticed and will not go unanswered.

On this National Coming Out Day, we reiterate our commitment to fiercely advocating for and defending the rights of LGBTQ Nebraskans.

We see you. We hear you. We fight for you.