I have known that I am gay since I was twelve years old. I realized that my best friend was talking about Tyler the exact same way I was thinking about Allison, and it was clear to me that I needed to keep that under wraps.
As a twelve-year-old, I attended a Catholic school. In fact, I literally only attended Catholic schools until my freshman year at TU. I did not come out at all until I started at TU. And I did not come out in a broader context until this past summer, before my junior year.
Twelve-year-old me did not need a “coming out day.” Twelve-year-old me needed the guarantee of unconditional love and support, and to be told that God, even the Catholic God, could and did love her, in spite of what so many of her teachers and religious leaders told her was a sin.
Enough of the third person and personal narrative: coming out day is a really nice idea that in reality has the potential to be incredibly dangerous.
The idea of a coming out day, that we are encouraging LGBT folks, particularly youth, to come out and be who they are, is nice. It is a nice idea. How nice it is that the only problem LGBT youth face is that they just do not feel like coming out. Thank God it is not more complicated than that.
Oh wait. It’s really complicated, my bad.
As it turns out, the idea of “coming out day”—where LGBT folks can just get over themselves and disclose their identities—is really, really screwed up.
LGBT folks who are deciding whether or not to come out have to consider a number of things: namely, “Will I be physically, financially and emotionally safe if I come out?”
The reason LGBT folks are closeted is not that they are lazy, it is that they are actively defending themselves from hate and discrimination.
LGBT people should never be pressured to come out. Ever. You may think you understand their situation, but you do not. You do not understand the unique risks and experiences that person is considering.
Do not encourage someone to come out. Do not tell them they are being dramatic, or that it will all get better if they just leave their closet. Because that is frequently not true. LGBT people deserve the total autonomy to make their own decisions regarding their identities and whether or not to disclose them.
The idea of a coming out day puts the onus on LGBT folks. It says, “You’re problems are created by you because you are choosing not to come out.” It says, “The threats you perceive are imaginary.” It says, “I do not respect your experiences or fears or values.”
Instead of celebrating “Coming out day,” instead of pressuring queer people to out themselves, it would be much more supportive to say, “I love you.” Tell LGBT people that you believe that the discrimination they experience is wrong. Your support can literally save lives.
Announce it on social media. Let everyone know that you believe that discrimination is abhorrent, and that every person, regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation has the right to safety and love.
LGBT people do not owe you their stories or disclosure. Let us know that you stand with us and support us and will fight for us. Let us decide when and what to tell you without pressure, even if you believe that pressure is good or helpful.
Coming out can be a matter of life and death. Allies, no matter how well-intentioned, need to remember to treat it as such.