Abbi Swatsworth, executive director at OutNebraska, reflects on National Coming Out Day in this guest editorial.

Abbi speaks at a rally outside the Nebraska State Capitol.

“Burst down those closet doors once and for all, and stand up and start to fight.” - Harvey Milk

This month marks National Coming Out Day (Oct. 11), a day when we as queer people celebrate living out loud and when we invite others to join us. Harvey Milk put a lot of energy into encouraging his gay siblings to come out. His vision of fighting for our rights started with each of us proclaiming to the world that we exist in every space - loudly and repeatedly.

He felt this visibility was necessary to beat back the myths and misconceptions that straight people held about the gay community. As I have worked with our Nebraska State Senators, I get his point. Too many of our elected leaders do not recognize that their constituents are members of the LGBTQ+ community.

But, as I take yet another call from a non-profit partner working with a young adult in crisis, I also feel like pressuring everyone to be out is unnecessary and hurtful.

Whether you share your identity with others or not, YOU are valid as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. You don’t owe anyone an explanation about your identity or attractions. You don’t have to choose a label that you share with others.

I recognized long ago how privileged I’ve been to live as an out queer person. I’ve been lucky to work in settings that valued me regardless of my orientation. I’ve been blessed to have bosses and landlords who didn’t harass me or seek to harm me in other ways. Not everyone has this sort of break.

That’s not to say that being out has always been easy. During my daughter’s early childhood, my authenticity meant living in fear that a judge could find me unsuitable as a mother. 25+ years ago I certainly knew other women who lost custody of their children. It was a fear that meant I rarely challenged my ex-husband even during situations where I should have spoken up.

I remember seething inside the night my ex sent the police to my apartment to check on my daughter’s wellbeing. She had been ill for several days and was sleeping when the officers knocked on my door. I had to let them into my house after midnight to physically check on her based on his word that I was not properly caring for her.

Thankfully, the officers agreed that my daughter seemed well-cared for and that there was no reason to wake her or involve Child Protective Services. That could have gone a lot differently.

And, it still does go differently for too many LGBTQ+ parents. Too many people are still living in fear, still facing a loss of housing, isolation from caring communities and other poor outcomes at the hands of those in power.

That is why I am so proud to work with OutNebraska - an organization that, together with our community of advocates, will stand up, speak up, and fight for the rights and recognition of all LGBTQ+ community members.

So, whether or not you are living as an out queer person, please know that we will not let you be left behind as we work for liberation across Nebraska. So come out or not, your identity is valid and valuable to all of us at OutNebraska.