A heinous anti-gay attack took place last week just one mile from where I work. The Latin Kings is one of the dominant gangs in the region and has a large following near my school. The attack has been called the worst act of anti-gay violence in NYC history.
As we go into National Coming Out Day, let us realize that coming out is not merely a means of showing one's pride, nor is it solely a statement of identity. It could serve those purposes, but more importantly, coming out is a humanizing force. Would these gang members have reacted so violently to the thought of one of their recruits being gay had known openly gay people in their community? Would Billy Lucas, Justin Aaberg, Asher Brown, and many other recent victims have been bullied so mercilessly if openly homosexual students comprised a small, yet significant portion of their middle schools? And finally, would Tyler Clementi have viewed the thought of being outed as so catastrophic if he had been exposed to more openly gay individuals?
Don't get me wrong. I am not, G-d forbid, excusing or justifying the actions of the perpetrators; they should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Yet we - the GLBT community and our straight allies - have been complicit in allowing a culture of hate to exist in our society. How many times have we stayed quiet when someone made an anti-gay remark? How many political and religious messages of hate have we allowed to go unchallenged? Whether we are gay or straight, out or closeted, we cannot stay silent any longer - we cannot afford to stay silent any longer.
The Mishnah in Sanhedrin teaches "One who saves a life, it is as if he saved an entire world." Please, have one conversation, influence one person's heart and mind. You can never know the impact of your actions. This is the message of National Coming Out Day.