National Coming Out Day – We MUST Be Better – Until Then, I Won’t Be Silent

October 12, 2016

Today at assembly faculty member Colin Penley shared his reflections on National Coming Out Day. The standing ovation that followed was well deserved. His words are powerful, emotional, and important.

The best teaching is modeling. Colin did that for all of us.

Read the text of his talk below which embodies our core ideals of purpose, action, excellence, and compassion.

Colin Penley National Coming Out Day

Mr. Penley stands at the board in his Mandarin I class.

Colin Penley’s Assembly, October 12, 2016:

Yesterday, October 11th was National Coming Out Day. A day to celebrate visibility of LGBTQ+ people and remind everyone of an invisible minority.

But today is a different day. Today is not a day to celebrate. Today is a much sadder day. Today is the anniversary of two events which National Coming Out Day stands in direct opposition to.

Today, October 12th, is the 18 year anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death. Matthew Shepard was a gay man from Laramie, Wyoming. He was beaten, tied to a fence, and left to die because he was gay.

Today, October 12th, is also the four month anniversary of the shooting rampage at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando, Florida – June 12th, 2016.

June 13th, sitting on the floor of my apartment, crying, I wrote a Facebook post. I want to read it to you with a few small edits:

Our power is in never stepping down and in our tears as we take the next step forward. I cry and I hope, unrealistically unfortunately, that I will never need to cry again.

Because words are power: I am gay. I. Am. Gay. I am here. I am gay.

This past fall, Mr. Liff and I directed and produced The Laramie Project. We talked about the death of Matthew Shepard in the past tense. While his death was almost 20 years ago, the issues are still present tense. I am lucky. I live in a supportive environment. I have parents who love me.

But that is not enough.

Until we live in a world where holding hands isn’t an act of courage, kissing an act of defiance, love an act of risking, I will not be free. Until the day that all of this is past tense, I will live and love looking over my shoulder.

Orlando was a tragedy for all of America, but more than that, it was an assault on queer/LGBTQ+ people. Dance clubs have long provided safe spaces for LGBTQ+ citizen who were disowned by the their families, cursed by their churches, bullied and harassed in their school, and fired from their jobs. A club was a space where everyone saw the true you and you could safely take off all the masks you needed to protect yourself in your daily life.

To deny this aspect of the attack is to silence generations: those attacked by McCarthyism, those who fought in the Stonewall Riots, those who were lost because Reagan’s inactions, those who survived Reagan’s inactions, those who sewed the AIDS quilt, those who stood up for equality, those who lived their truths.

Last fall, during rehearsals for the Laramie Project, Tarin McLaughlin struggled with and found voice in Zubaida Ula’s words: “Everyone needs to own it. We are like this. We ARE like this. WE are LIKE this.”

I say:

America, this is not a lone wolf not an Islamic extremist, we ARE like this.

Until my right to be safe is not a political discussion, we ARE like this.

Until my students don’t fear the reaction of their peers and their parents when they come out, we ARE like this.

Until faggot is not the insult of choice for young men, we ARE like this.

Until a woman’s body is treated with equal respect as a man’s rather than being seen as a piece of meat, we ARE like this.

Until my black friends can walk down the street and drive their cars without fearing the police, without fearing that they will be killed, we ARE like this.

Until everyone can use a public bathroom regardless of their gender presentation, we ARE like this.

Until everyone can dance and celebrate themselves without risking being shot (and Orlando is just the most recent in a long string of attacks on queer safe spaces), we ARE like this.

I hope one day we will shift that present tense “are” to the past tense “were”. I wish and pray for this for all American children: LGBTQ+, straight, or anything else. We MUST be better. And until then, I will not be silent.


And that is where my Facebook post ended. But today, I want to end on a note of hope.

We live in a nation where our highest courts wrote: “It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.” We are ALSO like this.

We live in a nation where people of all walks of life stand up and proudly proclaim their position as LGBTQ+ citizens and their allies. We are ALSO like this.

We live in a nation where my friends – Black, Latino, Asian, and White –  are standing up and peacefully proclaiming that black lives matter. We are ALSO like this.

We live in a nation where people chose to risk getting shot to stand, and dance, in defiance of hatred. We are ALSO like this.

Holding these positives as truth, I repeat: We MUST be better. And until then, I will not be silent.


Leave a Reply