Guest Speaker Janson Wu Addresses Students at National Coming Out Day Assembly

National Coming Out Day—a moment to support gay, 女同性恋, 双性恋, 变性人, and queer people going public with their identity—has been celebrated 10月11日 for 35 years, 在那段时间里, America has made great progress on LGBTQ+ rights. But for many, there’s still much work to be done.

在河流, the occasion was marked with a talk by guest speaker Janson Wu, a lawyer who’s spent decades fighting for LGBTQ rights. Wu was executive director of GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) until recently and is now taking on the role of senior director of state advocacy and government affairs at The Trevor Project.

Wu placed National Coming Out Day in historical perspective as he addressed Rivers students at Monday’s all-school assembly. The date was chosen to commemorate the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, 10月11日, 1987, 说吴, setting the scene by noting that Ronald Reagan was then president and Hulk Hogan was at the peak of his popularity. Wu then fast-forwarded to his own 2009 wedding day, also 10月11日—an occasion made possible by GLAD’s work on behalf of legalizing same-sex marriage. “We had no idea it was National Coming Out Day,” Wu told the students. “A straight friend told us.”

It was also a day Wu thought he might never see. During his childhood in Upstate New York, the only images he saw of gay people were connected to AIDS, and same-sex marriage seemed an unattainable dream. Wu had come out to his mother during law school, and she urged him to keep it a secret from the extended family. But just a month before the wedding, she realized that she wanted the Wu family to have a presence at the event, and she decided to spread the word. Relatives showed up for the festivities in a way Wu didn’t anticipate—among them an 81-year-old uncle, who thought it was important to represent acceptance from the older generation. 

Massachusetts led the way in legalizing same-sex marriage; the right wasn’t passed into federal law until 2015, with the Supreme Court decision on Obergefell v. 霍奇斯. GLAD and Wu also played a part in the landmark case, and Wu shared a courtroom sketch of himself and his colleagues as the verdict was announced. “I’ll never forget Justice Kennedy reading that first sentence: ‘The Constitutional promise of liberty extends to all within its reach,’ ” Wu told the students, adding that that “reach” was never guaranteed until that watershed moment.

Putting it in the context of Obergefell, Wu emphasized that the significance of coming out and National Coming Out Day extend beyond the personal. “Coming out can change the course of history and make America a better, more inclusive place for all,他说. He shared the story of Nicole Maines, a 变性人 girl who transitioned in fifth grade. Maines was accepted by her peers and community until the grandfather of a classmate questioned her use of the girl’s restroom. The Maines family fought back, in another legal case that GLAD took on and won. 

玛蒂的父亲, 吴指出, was initially uncomfortable with his daughter’s transition, but as the case proceeded and the family pulled together, he gradually came to accept her identity—underscoring, 说吴, the power of coming out. “Not only can it change the course of history, it can change hearts and minds,他说. In our era of contentious discourse and divisiveness, 说吴, the only way to bring about change is to open the lines of communication and “talk to people who don’t agree with us.”

His final anecdote concerned Aaron Fricke, 一个青少年, in 1980, wanted to bring his boyfriend to the prom and ultimately sued his school for the right to do so. Fricke won his case, “the first legal victory of its kind,” 说吴. “The amount of courage that took was extraordinary.” When the prom rolled around and Fricke and his boyfriend attended, they were apprehensive about what sort of reception they’d receive. And then the DJ put on the B-52’s dance anthem “Rock Lobster”—a favorite of Fricke’s—and before long, the whole room was on its feet, dancing along and celebrating the moment.

这, 吴的结论, was perhaps the greatest potential result of coming out: “Coming out,他说, 应该会带来快乐.”