Monte Nelson came out in middle school to his mother and younger brother, who is also gay, but it wasn’t easy.
“My mom comes from a very conservative background, and she didn’t take it well at all,” said the supervisor at Northwestern University’s LGBT Resource Center. “We’ve been talking about it for a long time, and it’s not what she’d want for us, but she’s not as hurt by it now.”
He is not out to all of his family, but said, “Coming out is a process.”
On Thursday LGBT groups across Chicago will mark the 25th annual National Coming Out Day, a celebration of living openly and encouraging others to do the same.
Since National Coming Out Day’s inception at the 1987 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, the average age of coming out has decreased from 23 to 16, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, a sign of increasing acceptance.
“This year we’ll celebrate this important day by coming out as a safe space for all people,” said Brian Richardson, director of public affairs for the Center on Halsted.
He said that although society has become more “out and open…coming out is still a huge personal challenge and personal risk.”
The day will also see the opening of the Legacy Project’s open-air museum, called the Legacy Walk, along Halsted dedicated to notable LGBT figures throughout history. The ceremony is expected to draw in hundreds of attendees, including Gov. Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
“This is really significant for the curricular inclusion of LGBT folk,” said Sarah Schriber, policy director at the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance. “You read about their work, but … their personal lives are left out. This is bringing it out into the open.”
The walk features plaques honoring 2012 Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame inductees, such as Oscar Wilde, Frida Kahlo and Harvey Milk, according to the Legacy Project.
The Legacy Walk Inaugural Dedication starts at 3 p.m. Thursday at the intersection of Roscoe and Halsted. Tickets for the ceremony and more information can be found at Legacy Project’s website.
Schriber said the highly visible memorials will educate youth who otherwise never hear about the “personal lives and personal struggles” of LGBT figures.
Richardson said the Center on Halsted offers a number of coming-out support groups, and that one’s “personal coming out story” should not be confined to Thursday’s celebration.
“Every day should be National Coming Out Day,” he said.