It’s National Coming Out Day in the US today. It’s often pitched as a celebration, but National Coming Out Day began as activism. For LGBT+ people, the personal is political – so coming out is a political act.
Life is different if you’re LGBT+. The US Supreme Court is not currently discussing whether it should be legal to fire people for being heterosexual. Radio 4 does not invite lobby groups to tell its listeners that cisgender women will attack them in hospital wards. Straight people do not have to worry that strangers will beat them up for holding their partner’s hand in public*. Cisgender people do not have to pass extensive psychiatric assessments to get simple medication. Nobody’s protesting outside schools that tell children straight people exist. Cisgender people do not give themselves bladder infections because they’re too scared of being yelled at or worse to use public toilets. Heterosexual teenagers don’t need to fear homelessness or physical or sexual abuse if they tell their parents they’re straight.
By coming out, by simply getting on with our lives, we can help fight that prejudice and bigotry.
But not everybody can come out, or is ready to. It’s hard enough dealing with your own stuff without also setting yourself up as a target for every arsehole on Earth, bringing 57 varieties of bigoted bullshit into your life.
We’ve come a long way in a fairly short time, but even in supposedly enlightened countries like the UK there are people who hate LGBT+ people. Those people do not always keep their bigoted beliefs a secret, wrap them in “reasonable concerns” or keep their hatred in the closet. Many of them are vocal. Some are violent. And not everyone is strong enough to come out and have to deal with that.
Helen Boyd, author of the insightful and thought-provoking memoirs My Husband Betty and She’s Not The Man I Married, has written a powerful open letter about that very thing.
your visible pride flag is for the young people who are LGBTQ+, who can’t come out, or be out, because they have so little autonomy in their lives, who don’t get to choose who their parents are or what their religion is or even where they go to school. It’s for the young people who are bullied because they are different and no one at their school is helping. It’s for the young people who worry about disappointing their mom or dad or grandma or uncle, who think it’s impossible to live a happy, productive life as an LGBTQ+ person, or who believe there is something wrong, or evil, about them because of who they are or who they love.
…We come out in order to tell our young people that they can be loved, feel safe, have a job, be successful, have families. We come out so they know their elders are out here loving them even when we don’t know who they are yet. We come out so they know we’re here and that someone cares about them living their lives to their fullest potential. We come out so that those young people live to be adults because too many of them don’t.
We come out because we can and we know others who can’t, won’t, shouldn’t – yet, or maybe ever.
* Not all straight people, of course. People dating people from ethnic or religious minorities can be attacked for who they love too.