LGBTQ+ activists, authors, journalists, and students shared their experiences in a celebration of National Coming Out Day, an annual day of awareness in support of the LGBTQ+ community that has been celebrated for more than three decades. The event on Tuesday at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum at Harvard Kennedy School was sponsored by the Institute of Politics and the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, and moderated by David Grasso MPP 2009, the CEO of Bold TV.
“I came out at Harvard Law School in 1991. … I went to a bookstore, and I picked up a book in what was then the gay section—there was no LGBTQ section, just the gay section—and nervously looked through some of the pages and took it to the counter, purchased it, slipped in my backpack, took it home, and read the entire book that night and immediately came out to myself. And the next day I came out to my mom and called her up in Texas and had a difficult conversation with her and finally managed to tell her that I'm gay and she reacted positively. … I remember sitting up in that row somewhere [in the Forum] in 1991 shortly after I came out, when Bill Clinton came to speak on campus, and someone who was sitting down here asked him for the first time ever if he would be in favor of lifting the ban on gays in the military, and he said yes. That was the first time he'd ever heard the question, and I was so impressed by his answer I decided to go work for him. So, after I graduated from law school, I went to work for Bill Clinton and became a special assistant to the president in the White House.”
Keith Boykin HLS 1992
Author and political commentator
“I am a documentarian and I think that a lot of my coming out happened on TV because of “Gaycation.” I was already out to my mother and to my immediate family, but I wasn't out to everyone in high school or to the frat that I was in or anyone in Indiana in my conservative hometown. … So, I had this unusual public coming out and just got it out of the way really, really quickly. At the same time, I think I learned making “Gaycation,” where you're traveling over to over 10 countries, that in many countries it is illegal to be gay, so coming out is not even a possibility. And I think we need to acknowledge that coming out is different for many different people: for some people it's a joyful celebratory experience … for some people it's really despairing because they risk violation, they risk violence, they risk death.”
Ian Daniel MC/MPA 2023
Documentarian and co-host and producer of the television show, “Gaycation,” an exploration of LGBTQ cultures around the world.
“I was 16 years old and my best friend said one day, “I'm gay.” And it took me a second. … I'm like, “Well that explains so much: I think I am too.” … The most important acceptance and love and nurture you can get is from your parents, because as long as your parents got you, you’re good. At the same time, I had this very jarring experience because my girlfriend's parents, who I thought were these like paragons of progressivism … they were awful. … I also learned: What does it mean to be judged for who you are? What does it mean to be a progressive hypocrite—to not apply your values equally to all people? That became such an instructive juxtaposition for me going forward.”
“I came out using a PowerPoint. … But I think the more important context of my coming out experience was the community that was held in, school, and then the community that was outside of it. I’m from Sarasota County, which is the first school district in our country to initiate an outing policy, so teachers are required to out students to their parents if they identify themselves as queer or change pronouns. And so, as a county and as a political culture, it was very aggressive; it was not very understanding. But as a school community, what we're observing everywhere is that the incoming generations are more progressive. There are more inclusive thought processes, and the conversations happen more naturally, and students feel more comfortable. That was the situation for me. So, the first person I ever came out to was actually a teacher, and the first people I ever came out to were at school. I think that's why, when we see this sacred, safe, guaranteed space being polluted for so many children, what you're seeing is that loss of an opportunity to have a community that is accepting and that will allow you to nurture and identify your identity.”
A Harvard College 2026 student, and litigant in the “Don’t Say Gay” lawsuit in Florida
“I've been out officially for 29 years. The [Massachusetts] Department of Public Health asked me to do some trainings on the denial of access to the LGBTQ community … . This is when hospitals and detoxes and halfway houses were slamming the door in people's faces and saying they couldn't get treatment there. At the time I was still kind of in the closet, so it pushed me out. And then I became an activist leader in Massachusetts, one of the founders of Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, and I'm an out trans person. I choose to be out because I can fight the fight where a lot of people can't. And we can never disparage people if they're not out and they don't feel comfortable being out. Let me speak for you.”
City councilor of Newton, Massachusetts, and co-chair of the Massachusetts Democratic Party’s LGBTQ+ Caucus
The Forum event is available to view online.
Images by Martha Stewart