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An Honest Reflection on National Coming Out Day

October 11, 2022

Michael Schiavi

Michael Schiavi

In recognition of National Coming Out Day, Professor Michael Schiavi, Ph.D., reflects on his journey from keeping his sexual identity quiet to celebrating who he is and how far the nation has come in accepting the LGBTQ+ community.

Every October 11, the United States celebrates National Coming Out Day. What does that mean? It’s a day when LGBTQ+ people honor our sexual orientations and gender identities by sharing them with others, often for the first time. The goal is honesty. Many of us spent years in the closet. October 11 helps us to kick that door wide open.

Why October 11, specifically? The date was chosen in 1988 to commemorate the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, which had taken place on October 11, 1987. That is a day I will never forget.

In October 1987, I was a freshman at American University in Washington, D.C. I was 17 years old, fully aware that I was gay, and terrified. I hadn’t come out to anyone. Growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the 1970s and 1980s, I didn’t know anyone openly LGBTQ+. (By the way, in those days, nobody said “LGBTQ+.” Most people’s idea of inclusion was to add the word “lesbian” to “gay.” We’ve come a long way.) In my high school, boys who were suspected of being gay were terrorized by classmates. The adults didn’t do a thing to help us. Homophobia pushed me deep into the closet, and I was miserable.

In college, I was no closer to coming out. But on October 11, 1987, several hundred thousand LGBTQ+ individuals gathered in D.C. to demand their rights from a government that had criminalized consenting adult sexuality the year before and was letting people with AIDS die by the thousands. The marchers screamed their outrage all over the local and national news. They were loud, brave, beautiful. They were my first glimpse of Pride.

The next day in my Spanish class, the professor asked us what we thought about the March. One of my classmates announced, “I don’t mind gay people, but why do they have to flaunt who they are in public? Why can’t they just be quiet about it?” Which told me that she minded gay people very much indeed. My cheeks were burning, but I didn’t say a word. The shame that I’d learned in high school still choked me.

Thanks to wonderfully supportive friends, I found the courage to come out two years later and began working for LGBTQ+ visibility. In recent years, I’ve been a volunteer with the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention/crisis intervention lifeline for LGBTQ+ youth, and SAGE, which supports LGBTQ+ senior citizens. People of all ages need to feel valued.

In 1998, when I began at New York Tech, the “out” presence was very muted. I would regularly hear students use the word “gay” as an insult. Years passed before a student came out to me, and when one finally did, he was so ashamed that he couldn’t even say the word “gay” in my office.

How different New York Tech is now. Students have revived the Pride Alliance with powerful seminars and gorgeous drag shows. My LGBT Literature course last semester was bursting with bright, curious students of all orientations and identities. Out students, faculty and staff, and our allies, have made New York Tech a safe space. A true community.

For me, that’s what National Coming Out Day is all about. This October 11, I hope everyone in the New York Tech community feels free to share who they are and whom they love.

The voice of Pride carries. Share yours.