Come Out With Your Hands Up

It’s a classic line that shows up in westerns, procedurals and mysteries.

Once the sheriff has cornered the cattle rustler in the canyon or the clever detective has tracked the killer to his lair, they offer the suspect a chance to come out. It’s not an offer to escape, but it’s usually a good faith offer of survival. By coming out with their hands up (and thus unable to reach any weapons), the suspect communicates a willingness to be vulnerable, to give control over their fate to their pursuer.

As I scrolled through my social media feeds on Saturday, there was an odd convergence that had me thinking about that phrase in a different light.

Protestors had gathered in Ferguson, Missouri, for weekend of marches and protests following the death of Mike Brown and far too many other brown-skinned men at the hands of police officers. Especially in the days immediately following his killing, “Hands Up – Don’t Shoot” became a reminder that when law enforcement officials have all the power, they must be held responsible for not dealing in good faith.

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For weeks, nightly protests have called for justice in this shooting, but this weekend’s gathering brought people from across the country who are calling attention to the systemic racism in our culture that is especially ingrained in law enforcement and criminal justice. My heart breaks at the reality that we need to say aloud, over and over again, that “Black Lives Matter” because the arrest, incarceration and mortality statistics say otherwise.

Saturday also marked annual National Coming Out Day, a day that has grown to include recognition in several countries since its start in 1988, on the anniversary of the 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.  In addition to an opportunity to raise awareness of the LGBTQ community, support organizations offer resources to individuals, couples, parents and children, as well as straight friends and relatives, to promote awareness of LGBTQ+ families living honest and open lives.

When I saw this graphic appear in my Facebook feed that I thought, “Come out with your hands up,” at first with a laugh, but then it made me sad.

Rainbow Hands

The truth is that coming out and living honest and open lives means becoming incredibly vulnerable.  I didn’t understand that the first time – no, probably the first few times – that friends shared their sexual identities with me.

I had no idea how many times they had been ridiculed or rejected, nor that they had delayed talking to me until they could be reasonably sure I would not be among those who would do the same.

Even now, when the momentum has shifted and a majority of Americans say they favor access to marriage for all couples, coming out could be sufficient cause to be fired, to lose your housing, to become a target for verbal or physical abuse in almost any setting… and with very little legal recourse.

I am no longer blind to the cruelty that people (even those who claim a faith that teaches them to love their neighbors) are willing to heap upon those who don’t fit neatly into the gender norms and expectations,  especially those who boldly tell their stories of transition and transformation.

And I am no longer blind to the realities of my friends who are tired of having to live a lie, whether that means pretending to be straight or tucking the pain and anger of being a person of color behind a mask of solidarity with the majority culture.

I wonder, sometimes, if I will live long enough to see a world where people are able to live wholly into their identities without being shamed or hurt or killed. If my child or their children will know a time when people move past race and see value in the differences of ethnic cultures. If humanity can ever find a way past the need to dominate and subjugate and oppress.  If we will ever truly live in a way that shouts “All lives matter.”

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