This Thursday, October 11, people all over the world will celebrate National Coming Out Day. Since its inception following the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in October 1987, National Coming Out Day (NCOD) has become an important tradition for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community and its straight supporters around the world. As explained by the Human Rights Campaign – the premier LGBT civil rights organization – annual observance of NCOD “continues to promote a safe world for LGBT individuals to live truthfully and openly.”
Although very few LGBT individuals actually use NCOD to come out of the closet for the first time in their lives, it is a day for LGBT people to reaffirm their LGBT identities proudly and publicly. Likewise, for straight allies, NCOD is a time to “come out” in support of LGBT equality proudly and publicly. This year at HBS, the LGBT Students’ Association (LGBTSA) and the Allies plan to bring NCOD to campus in a visible and celebratory way.
The continuing fight over LGBT equality remains an important issue in American politics. This year, U.S. voters will decide between presidential candidates with opposing views on gay marriage, among other LGBT-relevant issues.
Globally, however, the U.S. is far from being the most- or least-progressive country when it comes to equal rights for its LGBT citizens. In fact, many at HBS (whether from the U.S. or abroad) are not really sure what LGBT stands for or what it means. As future business leaders, HBS students will encounter increasingly diverse workplaces and will have many opportunities to make a difference.
In recent years, private employers have been on the leading edge – ahead of most governmental policy – in terms of providing equal rights and privileges for LGBT employees and their families. The group of students organizing NCOD at HBS this fall say they are hoping to not only encourage a collective celebration of diversity on campus, but to specifically promote a better understanding of LGBT at HBS.
This year, there are two student organizations on campus concerned with LGBT rights and issues. The LGBTSA is a club for self-identified LGBT students and partners at HBS. The club provides support on topics ranging from social issues to corporate recruiting, and offers members the opportunity to join the LGBTSA confidentially if they are not yet ready to be “out” at HBS in general.
The Allies, a group of straight supporters, is a related but distinct entity that re-launched this fall after a couple of dormant years (at press time, the Allies were still awaiting a decision on whether they had been granted official MBA Club status). As of early October, nearly 200 students and partners had signed up to be part of the Allies; the Allies’ leadership team is hoping to reach at least 500 signups by the end of the semester. According to the Allies’ mission statement, “broadly, we seek to honor the differences in sexual orientations and gender identities on our campus, and to celebrate diversity among us all.”
Although HBS’s Community Values, Harvard University’s Values, and many Massachusetts laws broadly encourage equality and respect for all sexual orientations and gender identities, HBS is not always perceived as a particularly welcoming environment for LGBT individuals. While there is a strong group of ~50 out students on campus, many other students experience great difficulty coming out at HBS or avoid coming out here entirely.
Historically, some cross-registered and joint-degree candidates have been out at other Harvard schools but felt uncomfortable coming out at HBS. Some members of the HBS community express their personal discomfort with LGBT equality in contrast to the school’s stated “fundamental value” of “respect for the rights, integrity and differences of others.” The Allies plan to foster greater understanding of LGBT at HBS and – as straight supporters – to send a strong signal that HBS strives to be an inclusive and supportive place.
NCOD will serve as a visible community celebration of all types of diversity on campus, but particularly for LGBT equality. Throughout the day, LGBTSA members and Allies will wear NCOD t-shirts around campus to commemorate the event. A hybrid information/celebration area is planned for Spangler Lawn.
NCOD organizers, as in previous years, will also be distributing rainbow ribbons throughout campus classrooms for straight allies and LGBT students to place on their name cards as a sign of support. Finally, over their lunch break, there will be an educational presentation given in each RC section.
After National Coming Out Day has come and gone this year, there will still be a variety of ways for interested members of the HBS community to get involved or to learn more. Straight members of the HBS community who are interested in joining the Allies should contact Evan (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Sarah (email@example.com). Students who are LGBT or questioning can contact the LGBTSA co-presidents, Jim (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Blake (email@example.com).