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Commentary: National Coming Out Day a push for everyone to get involved

Courtesy of MCT

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We’re living in revolutionary times.

It may be hard for college students to step out of the library long enough to get a good look at the world. But even a glance at Facebook and Twitter on any given day will inundate the average user in news stories that spell out which Republican presidential nominee dodged tough questions about the gay community, the effects of the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” or how the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York has sent a message to states without similar measures. Any cursory glance around Columbus will show a vibrant gay community walking among their heterosexual peers largely unafraid of retribution for leading what used to be, at best, deemed an “alternative lifestyle” and at worst, considered a serious threat to the foundation of society.

Considering the rapid pace of progress on just about every front in the battle for equality in the gay community, I often find myself putting my feet up and taking it easy. After all, the movement has built up enough inertia to resolve itself, it seems. And like me, many people who spent time in the trenches battling against misconceptions and outright discrimination among their own families and small town communities show up in Columbus, one of the friendliest cities on the planet for the LGBT community, and find themselves content to go with the flow as the national battle for equality is fought by others on the national stage.

But for every headline pronouncing another victory for the gay community in their pursuit of equal marriage rights or the chance to openly serve their country, there is a more disturbing story describing teenagers who commit suicide amid bullying about their perceived sexuality, no matter how they personally identify. While I am proud to be living in a time in which the issues that have long affected the community are being debated and often progressed, it is clear that the discrimination against gays extends well beyond legal questions of marriage or military service.

I have been out as a gay male for four years, and in the long process of coming out I found that it is not the big questions of marriage or military service that determined how I felt about being different. It didn’t matter if there were representative gay men and women on TV (but “Degrassi: The Next Generation” did help), it mattered how my brothers reacted. I wasn’t wondering if I could get married one day, I found myself in the middle of my high school career wondering if I would have any friends left.

That’s not to say that the civil liberties for the LGBT community is not important, but it will not be the big battles waged across the country that determine the fate of the next gay teenager who is teetering on the edge of hopelessness, it will be whether the people who were closest to him reach out to comfort him and guide him through a process that is as terrifying as it is confusing.

It is National Coming Out Day Tuesday, but instead of passively sitting back and waiting for someone close to make the move and step out of the closet, make it clear to all of those around you that sexual orientation has no impact on the value of friendship. Call someone out for spreading hate-filled speech that serves only to isolate those who are already in a high-pressure situation. While many might say, “It gets better,” it is more apt to say “You have to make it better, for yourself and those around you,” so take a proactive stance and reach out in as many ways as possible. In a war for cultural acceptance of a still-oppressed minority that has claimed lives, there is little room for rest.

Yes, we live in revolutionary times, but there is much work to be done.

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