Today is National Coming Out Day. This annual observance every October 11th started in 1988 to encourage and celebrate the act of Coming Out of the Closet. While coming out is very much a life-altering personal act, it’s also a political act of significant importance.
It’s easy to hate a group of people if you don’t know any of them personally. Myths and misconceptions can thrive in that vacuum. The closeted invisibility of gays has played a big role in fostering and maintaining homophobia. This is where Coming Out is so powerful. It’s much harder for someone to believe lies and myths when they realize their son is gay, or daughter, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, best friend, neighbor, coworker, boss, teacher — and most likely, several of these people!
We Are Everywhere
It‘s not really known how many gay people there are. Most credible estimates range from about 5% to 10% of the population. My gut instincts tell me it’s higher — 15% at least. I base this on fact that all the studies and official estimates depend on people self-disclosing their attractions and experiences. For many it‘s still difficult to acknowledge their homosexuality even privately to themselves let alone another person. Someone in the closet like this is very unlikely to tell a researcher or pollster, no matter how confidential the interview or questionnaire.
But let‘s go with the official high-end estimate of 10%. That‘s about 32 million people in the United States — greater than the population of any single state except California.
The more of us 32 million that come out, the greater our power politically — and the more lives that will be saved.
Homophobia & the Closet Kill
The closet condemns LGBT people to a life of isolation, fear, shame, self-loathing — and far too often, suicide. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24 and LGBT youth are almost 5 times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth. Their attempts tend to be more lethal or result in more serious injuries.
Just last week there was the story of Channing Smith, 16, who killed himself after being outed against his will by classmates at his Tennessee high school. This is just the latest of a long line of suicides.
Homophobia is the motivating force behind many hate crimes across the country and worldwide, far too often with deadly results.
It Gets Better
The core message behind Coming Out Day is that It Gets Better! More and more of us 32 million are coming out. Marriage is legal nationwide now. LGBT people are depicted positively in movies and television across the spectrum — even the Disney Channel with its recent Andi Mack series. CEO Tim Cook of Apple, now valued at $1 trillion, has come out. And perhaps biggest of all, we have an openly-gay midwest Mayor, Pete Buttigieg, running for President in a mainstream party holding at 5th place in a field of 25. Most of this was unimaginable just a few years ago.
Gay life doesn’t need to be dark, lonely and dangerous anymore. We can thrive, as individuals and as a community. Coming out is a vital step in this — but only when you’re ready. And only you can know when that is. It’s different for everyone. We each have our own journey. More and more kids today are coming out by 13 or earlier. I was 22. Some people don’t come out until their 30s, 40s, 50s or later.
Most of the time things ultimately work out, even if not at first. It does get better! But getting to better can be tough. If anyone needs help along the way, it’s out there. These are just a few resources:
• It Gets Better Project
• The Trevor Project
• Community of LGBT Centers (Map & Directory)
Coming Out Videos
YouTube has emerged as a huge resource for people working to accept their homosexuality and come out. I don’t when it first started, but an organic genre has evolved on the platform with youth (mostly) and others posting Coming Out videos. Some talk about their experiences. Others record their actual coming out moment live to parents, siblings and others. These videos can be incredibly powerful. When posting their own videos, people often report how they had gained strength and courage watching the videos uploaded by others before them. I can’t imagine how my own adolescence might have been different.
Watching these videos puts the lie to the ridiculous claim often made by people opposed to LGBT rights: that we choose it. No one chooses the pain and fear described in these stories — especially in adolescence when youth are so sensitive the perceptions and judgement of others. If there’s a choice being made, it’s to live a happy and authentic life. It’s this that the haters can’t stand.
I have a page on my website devoted to Coming Out Stories based largely on these videos at YouTube. I have about 40 videos posted that feature average LGBT folks along with public figures like Star Trek’s George Takei, Jane Lynch, Rosie O’Donnell, Jason Collins, Robbie Rogers, Michael Sam, Ellen Degeneres, Don Lemon, Ian McKellen, Troye Sivan and more. I encourage you to visit and watch as people share their stories.
For this year’s Coming Out Day I’m adding these additional videos to the collection. I’ve selected ones that illustrate the widely varied experiences people have coming to self-awareness and self-acceptance in their particular circumstances — and finally to coming out.
Coming Out in a Conservative Fundamentalist Christian Family
Coming Out in a Mormon Family
Coming Out in a Catholic Family
Nicaraguan Immigrant Comes Out after Near-Death Experience
Son of a Palestinian Immigrant Comes Out
Married Man of 10 Years & Father of Twins Comes Out
Gay Elementary School Teacher Comes Out to his Students
Gay Son Comes Out to his Mom (Recored Live)
A Year Later, Mother & Son Reflect
Daniel Katsoulis came out seven years ago in a phone call to his Mom which he recorded and posted on YouTube. A year later, in 2013, he and his Mom sat down to talk about that day, how it felt and their lives since.
Coming Out Big Time!
Finally, I’ll close with two guys who burst forth from their closets right onto national TV — in Italy. Umberto and Roberto appeared on Italia’s Got Talent in March 2016 performing as “You & Me.” They had been out to their mothers but no one else. Well, that all changed!
Title Image: nito/shutterstock.com
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