Happy National Coming Out Day 2011. More closet doors are being kicked open each day, with more of our neighbors, work colleagues and other people in our society saying they know someone who is LGBT. If you’re Tweeting today, use the hashtag #CountMeOut.

This message from the National Black Justice Coalition highlights how the religious, socially conservative black community makes coming out a high bar to clear. It’s compounded by the fact that the LGBT community at large doesn’t always offer a support structure to cushion the blow of ostracism for POC. That said, the power of coming out — and staying out — plays itself over and over,and there are more role models out there today. Sharon J. Lettman-Hicks of the NBJC:

Today, October 11, is National Coming Out Day. We at the National Black Justice Coalition are taking a moment to honor all Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people who have been bold and courageous enough to choose living an open, authentic life over the crippling darkness of being closeted. We know that for many of you coming out and staying out–may have been the hardest thing you ever had to do. You may have lost family and friends, at times you may have felt unsafe, and you may have even questioned your faith. But with time and determination, you formed new families, transformed the families that you were born and adopted into, created safety for others, discovered spiritual practices that affirm you, and became shining examples to all of those who are still making the journey to lovingly embrace themselves for who they are. We thank you and implore you to never give up.

On this day, we want to spotlight the work of Earnest Winborne, a dedicated pioneer for Black LGBT visibility who has labored tirelessly to create positive media images of people in our community through his online news show NoMoreDownLow.tv. Earnest is a veteran television producer, having worked with Oprah,Access Hollywood, and The View. Every month he produces an on-line show about contemporary Black LGBT issues, our history and important events. We thank Earnest for his vision, his commitment, and his artistic excellence.

Through Earnest, we are reminded that there is tremendous political power in being out and in telling your story. Studies show that the family and friends of out LGBT people are more likely to vote on behalf of measures that affirm our equality and create safety for us. So tell your stories of trial, triumph, and self discovery wherever you can, as often as you can–at home, at work, and in church–provided you feel safe enough to do so.

If you need help coming out, please read the Human Rights Campaign’s “Coming Out” Guide for African-Americans. If you’re feeling challenged on your journey and you need encouragement, check out the “It Gets Better Campaign.” If you’re already out and feeling good about who you’ve come to be, help somebody else find the courage to be all that they have the potential to be…openly, honestly, authentically.

Personally, my coming out story was not particularly dramatic. I documented it in this video (2007).

I came out in my late 20s. When I came out to my mother, it was fairly anticlimactic. She wasn’t particularly angry but, of course, sad because of all of visions of what a daughter should be were sort of shattered. But I don’t think she was entirely surprised, nor was my brother when I came out to him. He has always been supportive.

One thing I do regret is that my mom passed away before she could see me marry my wife, Kate, when we married in Vancouver. But all of my family has been extremely supportive. In fact, they probably knew, but it never was made explicit until I sent my announcement that we married to everyone via e-mail and in a card in the mail. So if people didn’t know, that was one way to come out all at once.

The one thing everyone can do is come out if it is at all possible, if it is safe for you to do so. And that’s a big caveat, but I think that for many people coming out is more of an internal process than it is the external process. Many people, once they do come out, find that most people either knew or thought that they were [gay] and had made peace with that. So I hope you take this time to think about whether it’s time to kick open that closet door.