Coming Out Day is a cause for celebration and sorrow

For a person who identifies as a member of the LGBT community, deciding to come out may be a huge occurrence and life change. They may be filled with fears the people they care about will turn on them because of their sexual orientation. However, coming out in a safe and supportive environment can be a cause for celebration.

In 1988, a National Coming Out Day was established to raise awareness of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. This day occurs Oct. 11 of every year, the date when the second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights first occurred.

Saturday, the world will celebrate the 20th anniversary of this wonderful day, and celebrations will be going on internationally. This day gives many people the chance to tell the world they are part of the LGBT community and gives allies the opportunity to support their friends and family members.

Though this weekend is one of great celebration, it is also a weekend of great sorrow. Ten years ago in 1998, an event shook the LGBT community and allies alike.

The night of Oct. 7, a college student in Laramie, Wyo., was tied to a fence in the middle of a field, beaten and left pleading for his life. This young man was Matthew Shepard, and this happened to him because he was gay. Nearly 18 hours later, he was found and taken to the hospital, where he died Oct. 12 with his family by his side.

It is important to remember while Shepard’s murder was atrocious, a sexual orientation, bias-driven hate crime occurs almost every six hours in the United States.

Every year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation collects data on hate crimes. The information is published for public viewing. According to the FBI, a hate crime is any criminal offense that is motivated by an offender’s bias for any specific reason, including race, religion, ethnicity/national origin, sexual orientation and disability.

In 2006, the FBI recorded 9,706 hate crimes in the United States. Fifteen percent of the hate crimes, an upsetting 1,415 offenses, were motivated by sexual orientation bias. Sixty-two percent were classified as anti-male, homosexual bias motivated acts.

A candlelight vigil will take place for the 10th anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death at 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 12 in the Risman Plaza.

Hate crimes are a travesty and are inexcusable, whether it is because of race, religion, sexual orientation or any other reason.

Take a stand for Matthew Shepard and all the others who are targets of hate because of who they are.

This column was submitted by Leora Rzepka, president of PRIDE!Kent, on behalf of the organization’s executive board.