National Coming Out Day celebrated its 30th anniversary this year on October 11. First conceived in 1988, on the anniversary of the National March on Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1987 — a march that brought over 500,000 people to Washington, D.C. — it was created as a part of a larger movement toward equality for the LGBTQ community. It was also meant to encouraged acceptance and celebrated individual identity, asking people to come out of the closet and embrace themselves in this collective, and ideally supportive, moment.
Pierson Middle-High School has had a Gay Straight Alliance since 2012, tragically and by coincidence convening its first session just days after the suicide of an East Hampton High School junior, whose mother said he was bullied as a result of his sexuality. It was this moment that led the LGBT Network on Long Island to open its Hamptons outpost in Sag Harbor, offering weekly drop-in hours at the Old Whalers’ Church on Union Street for area youth.
According to the Trevor Project, a non-profit created in 1998 focused on suicide prevention among youth in the LGBTQ community, while suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24, lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are five times more likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 34 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth reported being bullied at school in a 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, with 10 percent saying they were threatened or injured with a weapon while on school property.
Of course, having a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) is not just about addressing these harrowing statistics, and neither is National Coming Out Day. They are also about creating a community of allies, with children and adults alike that identify as “straight,” but are in complete support of those who identify as LBGTQ and their rights. It’s also about breaking down stereotypes and understanding that LGBTQ is not some “other” community — we are all a part of this community together.
Pierson Middle-High School has celebrated National Coming Out Day for years. According to the school’s GSA president, senior Lucas Woelk, the group spent the days leading up to last Thursday handing out rainbow ribbons to faculty, with posters decorating the school so students could understand exactly why this was an important day of promoting a safer school environment for LGBTQ students. Last Thursday, a table was set up in the cafeteria offering information about the day, free ribbons, pronoun stickers and rainbow “Ally” stickers.
“The day is very powerful for LGBT+ students to see all the support they have from their peers,” Lucas said. “It’s especially impactful for the younger kids. Middle school can be confusing for students who are still figuring themselves out. LGBTQ kids often feel very isolated and alone, but being surrounded by so much positivity for a day is incredibly powerful.”
Administrators and staff join the student body in supporting this important day, Lucas said, and with each passing year the GSA finds it has become larger and surrounded by a bigger and better system of support. In a world that has become increasingly intolerant, last Thursday, for most people in Sag Harbor, was a day to be celebrated for rising above politics that seek to divide us while embracing the whole of our community in all of its diversity.