Monday morning break. You’re telling your classmates about the hot date you had last weekend, and you catch yourself. Hang on. Mustn’t say too much. How would they react if I told them? Am I ready? …
Harvard University is celebrating National Coming Out Day on Friday, October 8, 2004. So, this Friday morning you will find stickers on your desks (RCs) or mailboxes (ECs), provided by the student club Open for Business. The stickers simply show a large “=” sign, or alternatively a person coming out of a closet, as a symbol of respect for diversity and equality. Regardless of your sexuality, we ask that you please wear them. We also ask that you wear them throughout the entire day and evening, regardless of where you go, as the gay community’s need for visible support does not stop at the HBS campus border. Along with showing your support for equality which gays seek, you will also (perhaps more importantly) be demonstrating that HBS’s environment is a welcoming one in which all of our classmates and faculty can feel comfortable being open.
What does it mean to be “open?” People who are “out of the closet” don’t hide their sexual orientation. That translates into a lot of simple day-to-day things-for example, they’ll bring their same-sex partner to parties, and they won’t disguise the name and gender of the person they spent their time with over the weekend.
Straight people often take these things for granted. But for many gays, lesbians and bisexuals, the decision to be honest can be agonizing. It’s a mixed bag of emotions; feeling unsure whether you should obfuscate the gender of your partner (or even that “hot date” from last night!) in general conversation. You feel safe and yet terrible that you lied to your section mates. And how do you take the risk of coming out in a new and uncertain environment? It can all be overwhelming. Some studies indicate that 9% of men and 5% of women are gay in the United States (and two or three times that number have had a homosexual experience at least once in their lifetime). Unless HBS is a statistical aberration, there should be roughly 108 gay male and 30 lesbian students on campus. That’s six members of each section. There are gay/lesbian faculty members and staff. But many gays and lesbians at HBS (and elsewhere) are not out, possibly because they perceive a risk to their careers, or to their friendship with you. We can tell you from personal experience that the closet is not a fun place. It is lonely and smells like moth-balls.
So don’t forget to wear your stickers this coming Friday! If you would like more information on the day’s significance, please visit the Human Rights Campaign website (www.hrc.org).
Editor’s Note: For more information on Open for Business (formerly the Gay, Lesbian & Bisexual Student Association), including how you can help as a straight supporter, or if you want to come out yourself but are unsure how to go about it, please visit //sa.hbs.edu/openforbusiness or contact Open for Business directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.