On October 11th, we celebrate the 32nd National Coming Out Day. Because people use this day to celebrate who they are, it’s a unique opportunity to understand our sexual and gender minority (SGM) identities.
The Safety of Coming Out
While the LGBTQ+ community has seen a rollover of certain fixed stereotypes, and societal efforts are starting to address discrimination, it’s important to note that coming out is still difficult and sometimes unsafe for SGMs. In 2019, hate crimes toward members of the LGBTQ+ community saw an increase of 20%.
Even in New York City, a city touted for its diversity and acceptance, approximately 8,400 of
the nearly 20,000 homeless youth identify with the LGBTQ+ community. Of those, a reported 26% of minors who come out find themselves kicked out of their homes.
Workplace discrimination also remains a constant for many SGM people (report SGM discrimination here). While the vital systems for reporting discrimination and hate crime incidents are new and essential to the safety and accountability of all citizens, the world is not making meaningful, positive change quickly enough.
These facts and statistics shouldn’t deter any planned coming-outs—quite the opposite—it’s vital to engage in productive and supportive dialogue around sexual and gender minority identities.
Research regarding Meyer’s Minority Stress Model suggests that while discrimination can fuel poor mental health, support from loved ones can help protect against some of the negative impacts. For those of you who are coming out or want to support loved ones during their coming out processes, I offer some suggestions on how to navigate these, sometimes, tricky waters below.
If you're coming out, know that this is not a place to find a script or guide for how to come out. It’s merely a commentary on issues to consider when embarking on the process.
How Accessible is Coming Out?
First, it’s important to note that coming out is not always accessible, especially in a melting pot like New York City. English isn’t the only language spoken in this diverse city, but it undoubtedly dominates the resource landscape.
Consequently, support for all SGM identities and language requirements has yet to catch up to the need. Even if you can find the language (or an expert) with which to describe yourself, the person receiving your coming out may not share the same cultural understanding of how relationships or gender look and work for you. It’s up to you and only you to assess whether coming out is possible and, if so, to whom.
Moreover, coming out is not always a safe endeavor. Coming out can be met with discrimination and hate—it’s up to you to discern what conditions make a person or environment safe for you.
How to Decide If Coming Out Is Right for You
Ask yourself these four questions if you’re deciding whether or not to come out:
- Is it safe for me to come out?
- Will the person I’m coming out to have the ability to understand me?
- Will coming out improve my quality of life?
- What benefits can I access by coming out?
Coming out is not a one-time event or a one-and-done affair—you will have to do it repeatedly.
When I first came out, I came out to my mom while sitting in the car in our family’s garage. It quickly dawned on me that I would subsequently have to come out to my dad, who was sitting on the couch in our living room. I still have not come out to my grandma; her English is limited, and she doesn’t conceptualize how I identify, even with the appropriate translation.
Furthermore, I come out every day when I introduce myself with they/them pronouns or enter a new social or professional environment. Having that first conversation, making the initial social media post, will only be the first of a string of coming-outs. It’s your call to decide when and if you would like to begin that journey.
If You’re an Ally
As Ibram X. Kendi’s concept of antiracism teaches us, our work as an ally is to live and act in ways that uphold those values. It’s not enough to claim that you are “not racist,” just as it’s not enough to claim that you are not homo- or trans-phobic. There are actionable steps you can take to help you walk the walk and be a true ally of the LGBTQ+ community.
Educate yourself. An excellent way to become a better ally is by doing your own research, but Ash Hardell’s “The ABC’s of LGBT+” is a terrific book to start. Educating yourself is an ongoing process as language and community keep evolving, so keep asking questions and stay curious.
You can also use a few online resources to better support LGTBQ+ communities. Below are both national and NYC-based advocacy groups.
Create an Inclusive and Supportive Space
This point is a little harder to advise on and is nuanced, but it’s one of the most critical steps for allies.
Creating a space where LGBTQ+ people feel safe and comfortable goes hand-in-hand with educating yourself and being receptive to boundaries. If someone asks you to use a new name for them, use that name and quickly correct your mistakes. If someone asks you not to use a specific label for them, learn the importance of what that means to them.
Be Gracious and Kind
When people come out to you, it can come as a shock. We often automatically default people as straight or cisgender (the term for “not transgender”), and it can surprise us when someone opens up about not fitting that mold. The first thing you can say to someone to signal your support is “thank you.”
One of the least supportive and presumably accidental responses we can have is to forget how our words and actions can impact the individual.
If an LGBTQ+ person identifies you as someone they can come out to, this signals that they regard you as a safe person for them. Being mindful of your responses will go a long way in ensuring their continued feelings of safety and freedom, not only with you but out in the world, too.
As we work toward a more inclusive, equitable world, let us celebrate the color and vitality that our friends, colleagues, and loved ones in the LGBTQ+ community bring to the table by providing the compassion, safety, and care we long for ourselves. Happy Coming Out, friends!