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Rochesterians celebrate Coming Out Day as Supreme Court weighs employment rights for LGBTQ workers

Oct 11, 2019

Friday was National Coming Out Day. While it's being celebrated, the Supreme Court is considering the employment rights of LGBTQ workers.

Members of Rochester’s gay and trans community shared their experiences of coming out, and what this political moment means for them.

Brittan Hardgers is a master barber in Rochester, NY.
Credit Brittan Hardgers

Tamara Leigh is with Rochester's Out Alliance, an organization that provides resources and programs for the local LGBTQ community. She came out later in life, when she felt safe to do so, she says.

She is a mother of two children and says that coming out has enriched their lives.

"Who I happen to love may be one thing or another," Leigh says. "It doesn’t affect them being great people and well-adjusted. If anything, it makes them more adjusted because they have learned on yet another level how absolutely unacceptable prejudice is." For Brittan Hardgers, coming out was different, and twofold. Hardgers first came out as a lesbian when he was 13, and then transitioned in his 20s. 

“Living in my denial, and living in society’s denial, that set me back 25 years,” he says.

For him, support was limited because there wasn’t a large trans community in Rochester at the time.He says his transition began mentally. Almost two years ago, he began his physical transition. “My mental transition actually saved my life. I was able to get to know who I was and accept who I was before sharing that with other people,” he says. 

Tamara Leigh is Out Alliance's director of operations and public relations.
Credit Tamara Leigh

Early on in his career as a barber, Hardgers says that he faced discrimination. A co-worker who knew him from before he transitioned wouldn’t accept his pronouns -- he, him, and his.

That was resolved, Hargers says, with conversation and education, something Hargers does not back down from.

“He didn’t realize that by not accepting my pronouns at that time due to how he viewed me and what his comfortability was, it came off as discrimination,” Hardgers says. 

This year’s Coming Out Day coincides with a set of Supreme Court cases that will determine whether LGBTQ+ workers are protected from discrimination in the workplace.

Leigh says that she finds the Supreme Court battle terrifying, but not insurmountable. “This country and this world has had plenty of dark moments in its history, but we fight on," she says. Leigh emphasizes that today is a personal celebration of standing in one’s truth, and for those who are not ready, she says it’s OK. “Please don’t allow this day to be something that causes you further stress or trauma or pressure. You’re ready when you’re ready," she says.