Claire Black: Come out, it’s a day of celebration

Keegan Hirst is the first rugby league player in the UK to come out as gay. Picture: PA
Keegan Hirst is the first rugby league player in the UK to come out as gay. Picture: PA
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IT’S National Coming Out Day. I’m having a double celebration because it was International Lesbian Day last week and, since I’d never heard of it until the day itself, I missed the opportunity to kick up my heels playing my favourite Dusty Springfield albums, while reading the saucy bits from Sarah Waters’ novels, while wearing sensible shoes. Not a mistake I’ll make a second time.

When I was thinking about writing this column – a celebration of this 27th National Coming Out Day – I wondered whether I bang on about being gay a bit too much? Do I have to take every opportunity to mention LGBT issues? And then I realised yes, I do.

The first NCOD I was aware of was in 1989. I still have the leaflet for it. I found it in West & Wilde, that life-preserver which doubled as a bookshop on Edinburgh’s Dundas Street. (I still miss it.) The place where I’d go and find brilliant books but more than that where I’d luxuriate in the feeling that I wasn’t the only person like me but rather we were everywhere and all different, with a rich culture and a history which helped me to imagine my future.

Coming out is a big deal. The first flush of coming out is, whatever age you are, the biggest of deals because it’s usually when you tell the people closest to you, the ones whose responses are going to really matter because they’ll be the foundations, steady or shoogly, on which all your other coming out will be built, your family and friends. My mum, hands in soapy water, expressing unconditional acceptance. My dad having a bit of a freak out about what “people” might think (of him rather than me, I guess). For me, coming out was frightening and exciting and absolutely vital.

There are no rules when it comes to telling people you are LGBT. Everyone does it in their own way. And it’s not a one-off event. We do it our whole lives because most people can’t seem to stop assuming that everyone is straight. And although it gets less scary and sometimes, if you’re lucky, becomes almost unremarkable, I don’t think you ever forget when it was a big deal. You never lose the understanding of just how much it means.

And that’s why when EastEnders is about to welcome its first transgender character played by a transgender actor, Riley Carter Millington, and Visit Scotland has launched a specific LGBT portal on its website to attract the lucrative market of LGBT travellers, and even rugby league can celebrate having its first out player in Keegan Hirst, coming out and supporting those who are remains hugely, life-changingly important.

Things are pretty good for the LGBT community in this country. But being in a minority when it comes to sexual identity isn’t easy. LGBT need and deserve support. When people know someone who is LGBT they are more likely to support equality for that community. So that’s why I’m banging on about it and I’m proud to do so.

Best thing since baked bread

MARY Berry cried. Well, teared up. Her chin wobbled, her lip trembled, she dipped her head and moved away from the camera. And that has been the best bit of the Great British Bake Off ever. Better than Baked Alaska Gate. Better than the ginger bread coliseum. Better than the bread lion. Nadiya Hussain won – she was amazing, unflappable and hilarious. Since then there’s been much rumination on the significance of a Muslim woman wearing a hijab winning such an essentially British programme. I can understand why Muslim women are revelling in the fact that someone just like them was allowed to be, well, just like them and by that I mean totally ordinary on the telly. And win. And make Mary Berry cry. And if some other people have had their narrow horizons broadened by Hussain’s win then that’s great too. I hope among those people are Theresa May who gave a xenophobic speech at the Tory Party conference last week and people who write columns in newspapers who babbled about PC-madness. People go on about the Great British Bake Off being the epitome of cosy, middle class Britain, but it’s always been doing something subversive, whether that’s by having an openly gay presenter who makes double entendres with a different audience in mind, or gay contestants throughout the years. Nadiya is just its best discovery yet.

Here’s to amazing Grace

GRACE Lee Boggs died last week aged 100. Born in Providence, Rhode Island, she grew up in New York, where her father, an immigrant from Guangdong, was a restaurateur. She enrolled at Barnard College when she was 16 and earned a doctorate in philosophy at Bryn Mawr in 1940. No university would hire a Chinese-American woman to teach ethics, so Boggs chose low-paid jobs and political activism. She married an African-American man, lived in Detroit and made the struggle for black freedom her life’s work. By the end of her life she said she was more “evolutionary” than “revolutionary”, but she never lost her faith in grassroots movements. What a woman.