By Laura Connors Hull
Having spent over 40 years working in the theater, I have always relished the fact the theater provides an open, supportive environment for our LGBTQ community. The journey toward acceptance for people with a sexual orientation or gender identity different from the mainstream has been a long, and difficult one. The stories of discrimination, hate and rejection that we in the straight community have heard from the artists and actors working in our theaters has often broken our hearts, and filled us with despair…. especially when those stories involve close family members.
That is why tonight at 6:30 p.m. at Creative Cauldron we will be celebrating “National Coming Out Day” before our regular performance of “Nevermore.” Nearly 30 years ago on the anniversary of the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, the first “National Coming Out Day” was held. This day is held every year as a reminder that one of the most powerful tools that can be used in the effort to gain true acceptance and equality is the power of “coming out.” As the Human Rights Campaign website states: “one out of every two Americans has someone close to them who is gay or lesbian, and for transgender people that is one in ten.” This is a day for the straight community to stand up for human rights, and to commit to creating safe, welcoming places for all regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
When you work every day within a community like the theater where LGBTQ people have always been embraced and accepted, it is unfathomable to you that there are people in the world that choose to vilify people with different sexual orientations or gender identities. What’s most depressing to us is that this is often done under the umbrella of faith based institutions and religious doctrine. We’ve heard the invective that often spews from conservative pastors across the media and wonder how Christ’s message of love and compassion got lost.
The Supreme Court’s landmark ruling that same-sex couples could marry nationwide, established a new civil right and gave gay rights advocates a long sought victory. This was truly a groundbreaking event in our culture, but we are a long way from creating a world in which no one is discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The Supreme Court 5-4 ruling hung on the decision of one man, Justice Kennedy, whose conscience guided him on that historic day. “Their hope,” Kennedy wrote, “is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of the civilizations oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that.” With a new conservative majority in the Supreme Court, one can’t help but wonder how gay rights will fare and whether this progress will be diminished.
Still there is hope. We are on the verge of a new era and a new cultural shift in attitudes. It is an era in which a younger generation does not view the world of sexual identity in the same rigid norms of the past. It is an era that challenges even those of us who have embraced our gay and lesbian colleagues with open arms, to now find new ways to reach out to our transgender and non-binary friends and let them know that we accept and support them. Nature has a huge amount of variety. Why should we recognize only two genders, erasing everyone who doesn’t fit in as solely male or female? We are learning.
When theaters go dark at the end of the night, we turn on a “ghost light” — offering visibility and safety for all who might enter. This theatrical tradition that was created decades ago. In January of 2017, on the eve of the inauguration, Creative Cauldron joined 500 theaters across the country in an initiative called “The Ghostlight Project.” We were joined by some of our patrons who were looking for a way to articulate what they were feeling in the wake of the racially and ethnically insensitive statements that our new president made on the campaign trail leading up to the election. Together we turned on the “ghostlight” that now sits in our front window, making a pledge that is printed on a placard underneath it: “We fight for the values of inclusion, participation, and compassion for everyone regardless of race, class, religion, country of origin, immigration status, (dis)ability, age, gender identity or sexual orientation.”
We keep that commitment alive with events like “National Coming Out Day.” So we encourage you to join us at 6:30 p.m. this evening to raise a glass in celebration of all who have had the courage to be who they really are. Creative Cauldron will always be a welcoming place for you.
Laura Connors Hull is the producing director of Falls Church’s Creative Cauldron.