THE BLOG

Why Coming Out Still Matters

11/10/2017 12:13 BST | Updated 11/10/2017 12:13 BST

This Wednesday, 11th October, is National Coming Out Day, a date popularised in the USA but frequently marked here in the UK too.

People use it as an opportunity to come out for the first time, to share their coming out story, or just to promote being out and being part of the LGBT community.

But why do we still need to come out? It's 2017. Aren't we done with all that?

Well, no.

Here in the UK we have some of the most robust laws to prevent discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity, and freedom and equality that many countries still lack. But the battle still isn't over in our schools, on our sports pitches and in our workplaces. Homophobic abuse is still the reality for many, and there are still taboos about coming out in certain environments.

We also need to remain vigilant against those who would come and try to take away our hard fought for rights. Just look over to the USA right now where President Trump's administration has recently revoked the right of transgender people to serve in the military, for example, and people are concerned about what freedoms they could lose next.

What we can be encouraged by in the UK, however, is that diversity of representation, of voices, and of visible role models, is on the rise. The UK Parliament has been termed the 'gayest' in the world, with a record number of out LGB (sadly still no 'T') members, higher in percentage terms than any other legislature in the world.

As the Chair of LGBT Labour Wales I hit the doorsteps in 2016 to campaign for Hannah Blythyn and Jeremy Miles, two of the first three out LGBT Assembly Members to be elected to the National Assembly for Wales.

I was delighted to see not just visible representation of LGBT people in public life but that the Senedd would have people with the experiences and interest to speak up for our LGBT community and its needs.

To those who dispute the fact that we need diverse decision makers, I say this: the Welsh Government has just announced the creation of Wales' first Gender Identity Clinic, meaning that people living in Wales will no longer have to travel to London for gender reassignment and other related medical care. The Welsh Government is also ahead of England in offering HIV prevention drug PrEP free on the NHS.

Would the Government have made these decisions without LGBT people's voices standing up to represent their community in the Senedd? Maybe. But I know from being part of these campaigns that the strength of feeling from Hannah and Jeremy has kept LGBT equality issues high on the agenda, and they've made their voices count.

For every LGBT teen who's sat alone wondering what they 'should' be feeling, or why they don't recognise the labels people put on them, seeing visible role models like Hannah, Jeremy and like our other out politicians, is so valuable.

Knowing that there's nothing wrong with you, and that you can be out, proud and a decision maker in your community and your country is inspiring.

That's why we have to keep coming out, standing out and standing up for our rights.