National Coming Out Day (#NCOD) is Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014. According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), an LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered) advocacy organization, NCOD’s focus is to “promote a safe world for LGBT individuals to live truthfully and openly.” NCOD has its roots in the 1987 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.

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Highmark employees participate in Pride events and National Coming Out Day every year. This photo shows Highmark employees taking part in the Pittsburgh Pride parade.

As a diverse and inclusive organization, Highmark celebrates National Coming Out Day each year with events and activities; this year, for instance, we are screening the “Bridegroom” documentary in our Pittsburgh and Camp Hill locations on Oct. 10, which is free and open to everyone age 18 and older, although tickets must be reserved in advance.

Bravery. Acceptance. Celebration.

“What do you want people to know about National Coming Out Day?”

That’s the question we posed to members of Highmark’s LGBTA business resource group (BRG), a networking and social group for LGBT employees and allies. Here are some of the responses we received:

NCOD is not about putting labels on anyone. It is a day to encourage people to be who they truly are and not to feel like they have to hide from society.  We are all humans and should be labeled as human, and not for our sexual orientation, race, etc.” — Rebecca B.

“It’s everybody’s right to be themselves, so don’t let people stop you from being you. Believe me, if people don’t like it then they need to open their minds and realize it could be them coming out today. Stay strong and proud of yourself for letting the world know ‘I am who I am.’” — Kay S.

“National Coming Out Day is a celebration of social progression.

 NCOD is one day out of the year to show solidarity with this sentiment, and a reminder that we all should treat everyone equally the rest of the year.” — Megan K.

“Coming out is a process that takes a lot of bravery. It is very scary to tell your family, friends, and coworkers something that may result in the loss of a relationship, but it is also an important step in accepting who you are.  When someone in your life comes out to you, it means they value their relationship with you and don’t want to hide any part of who they are.  National Coming Out Day not only celebrates the bravery of the individuals who have shared this part of themselves with others, but also the family and friends who love and accept them.”  — Tracy S.

“Forty years ago my cousin came out to me. Naïve to what it meant, I wasn’t sure how to respond. When I took the news to my mother and asked what we should do, her response was so profound. She asked me, “Does she look any different?” “Is she acting any different?” “Is she any different at all?” When I responded “NO” to all her questions, her response was … “She’s not any different. We continue to love her like we always have and always will.” With that, I accepted that my cousin was lesbian. Everyone who is lesbian or gay in our family since then has found it very easy and comfortable to come out. We should make it easy for all our loved ones to come out to us in a loving and supporting environment.” — Gloria P.

Lanyards

Highmark’s giveaway of rainbow lanyards at the Pittsburgh Pride Parade.

“I want people to know that “coming out” is a process, not an event that happens in a day, and that it is something that families, not just individuals, go through. I learned this from firsthand, personal experience.

My daughter is bisexual.  It still feels awkward to say that out loud.  Now, before anyone jumps to bigoted conclusions, I am not a homophobe, nor do I “hate gay people.” I love my daughter more than anything in this world, but the fact that my child is bisexual has taken me years to process.  I’m not sure that I have fully wrapped my head around it, even to this day. That’s because understanding and acceptance take time. Of course, the process is different for everyone. For some people, it takes practically no time at all, while for others, there is a prolonged process that encompasses many emotions, much like the process of grief takes time and encompasses many emotions. No two people go through the process the same way. But just because someone takes time to process the information, it does not mean that they are somehow less accepting or less caring or less tolerant than someone else.

Fully accepting your child for who they are can challenge many long-held beliefs. If fact, it can challenge everything you have ever believed. That may sound overly dramatic, but I assure you that it is not. Understanding the nature of humanity is at the very root of our understanding of the universe. Where did we come from? Why are we here? What is truth and who has it? It is easy to hold strong, even dogmatic views about abstract concepts, but when it is your child that you are talking about, suddenly nothing seems black and white anymore. The world becomes colored in many shades of gray, and a picture that was once in sharp contrast is now muddied and difficult to make out. It’s like driving into a fog bank — you lose your bearings because you can no longer see the landmarks and guideposts that you have relied on to direct your path through life.

My husband and I have a wonderful relationship with our daughter. We have always sought to keep an open line of communication with her, and even though we may disagree about many things, we still are willing to discuss the issues and air our feelings, in the effort to better understand each other. But it has not always been easy. Sometimes we avoided talking, because we didn’t know what to say. Sometimes we spoke our feelings a bit too bluntly, without the filter of compassion. Sometimes we forgot that it wasn’t just about each of us, alone, but that it was about all of us, as a family. We have cried together and laughed together, sometimes in the course of the same conversation. But we have never stopped loving each other. And that is the key. Love will never fail us. It helps us to accept that our differences are not stronger than what we have in common. We are all members of the human family, and we are all endowed with the right to live our lives freely and without fear, and to pursue that which makes us happy, so long as we do not hurt anyone else in the process.

My daughter is bisexual. It still feels awkward to say that out loud. But I am not ashamed or afraid to say it. I am proud of the person my daughter is, and I look forward to seeing the person she is yet to become.” — Deborah K.