Ray Hill is the strong, not-so-silent type.

Come On Out

In honor of National Coming Out Day, we gave local gay-rights activist Ray Hill a call.

We were shocked when he called us back from a hospital bed, having woken up from surgery only a few hours before — get well soon, buddy — but he was in a chipper mood.

"National Coming Out Day is actually the commemoration of the second march on Washington for lesbian and gay rights," he told us.

That march was held on October 11, 1987, eight years after the first one, which Hill says he helped plan.

"It was Harvey Milk's march, but Harvey got assassinated, and it was left to us peons to plan the march," he says.

Hill wound up on several planning committees, he says, and one day, when he was the only one who showed up to a meeting, he made an executive decision:

"Since my birthday is October the 13th, I decided we would have the march on Columbus Day Weekend," he says. "I actually am the guy who set National Coming Out Day closest to my birthday. You do national duty, you get national perks."

Ray says he came out of the closet while a student at Galena Park High School in 1958.

"I came into the kitchen where my mother Frankie was drinking a cup of coffee, and I said, 'Frankie, I'm a homosexual,' " he says. "And her response was...

'Well, that's certainly a relief.'

"And so I thought she didn't understand what I said, because I wasn't expecting that response, so I asked her, 'What do you mean?' and she said that Raymond, my father, and she had noticed that I tended to dress up more than the other boys in the neighborhood and buy coats and ties and things, and she thought I was trying to appear to be wealthier than we were, and she was afraid I might grow up to be a Republican and embarrass the family."

Well, damn, sounds like it went pretty well.

Hill gives this advice to others considering coming out:

"The closet ain't worth it. If you don't believe me, ask Mark Foley," he says. "You're going to get cricks in your neck waiting for someone to, the old phrase is, drop a nickel on you."

If you do decide today is the day, OutSmart Editor Tim Brookover suggests these options for your evening:

-- Attend a coming-out support group at 6 p.m. at the Montrose Counseling Center

-- Hang out with openly gay candidate Dot Nelson-Turnier at Rouge from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

-- Cruise around the Human Rights Campaign Web site

Brookover also offers up these words of advice:

"Once we decide to come out of the closet, we realize at last that we can live freely and openly as men and women," he says. "Most frequently, when we finally do come out of the closet, we discover that apart from angry folks on the right-wing fringe, most people really don't care that much about our orientation."

Thanks, guys. -- Keith Plocek

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