Coming out in our current social and political climate can be daunting, but know that you will find your tribe.
The hardest part about coming out is the uncertainty. You’re exposing a very private part of your life to the world, and you don’t really know what you’re inviting by doing so. For a lot of people, coming out is becoming more of a moment about love and acceptance. But for as many Love, Simon cases, where you have supportive friends and family, there are just as many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people who are met with hate and rejection.
“It gets better” is a common phrase among the LGBTQ community, but that time between the “now” and the “later” is what worries me. Not for myself, of course. I’ve faced my fair share of hate and discrimination in life, and I learned how to handle those — although your guard is never fully down. I fear for those young LGBTQ people still in the closet who are thinking of coming out in our current social and political climate.
To be sure, it has never been more socially acceptable to be gay. Yes, Chechnya is going through a gay purge (killing, imprisoning and torturing gay men) to this day; gays in the Middle East and India face shunning and discrimination; and being out as an LGBTQ person in Latin America could get you murdered. But as far as history goes, this is the best we’ve gotten. Sad, I know.
“I don’t want you to make life harder for yourself” is also a common trope that parents of LGBTQ people like to use. The problem is, there is no choice involved. The only choice in this situation is when to face the world with your truth. And unfortunately, there’s a kernel of truth to that trope: Coming out does make life harder for some.
“American people have never been with us more than today. Marriage equality support is at 62% (among U.S. adults) and 70% (of Americans) support (LGBTQ) protections from Congress. We have the public with us,” said David Stacy, government affairs director of the Human Rights Campaign. However, “Congress is behind the people,” he added.
Indeed, politicians are lagging behind public opinion. According to the HRC, more than 100 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in 29 states in 2017. Twenty-nine states. More than half of our country have sent signals of intolerance of the LGBTQ community.
The issue with these bills is the message they send. Just as the Supreme Court decision for marriage equality slowly changed public opinion on the issue, the same goes for proposals against the LGBTQ community. Even in more “liberal” places with a large LGBTQ population, such as Washington, D.C., hate crimes still take place.
“We think the numbers (of hate crimes) are going up. We can say for sure that there is more fear,” Stacey said. But the problem with hate-crime data is that registration of such numbers is voluntary. “There’s a lack of data. Some places don’t report, so they report zero hate crimes,” he added.
However, from our conversation, the HRC does have reason to believe (from other community groups who focus on tracking hate crimes) that the numbers have risen since 2016.
LGBTQ youth, specifically, have the numbers against them. According to Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, they are 120% more likely to experience some form of homelessness than their straight, cisgender counterparts. In general, they are more likely to be the target of hate crimes than any other minority group.
I worry about my community and it pains me to write this, because living your truth shouldn’t place a target on your back. But it does, sometimes.
A message to closeted youth
To the young queers out there: If you feel you are in a safe place and have a support network, when you feel ready, come out and live your life to the fullest. It’s always going to be a scary step to take. But if you feel that by taking that step you would be putting your life in danger, hold off for a minute, get things in order, and then evaluate your decision. There’s not a second to waste to live your life, but I don’t want you to be an unreported statistic.
However, if you do decide to come out, know that there’s a large and diverse community ready to embrace you. Whether your family and friends accept you or not, you now get to choose a new family and find your tribe.
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That hate crime in D.C. I mentioned earlier? The act was horrible and shouldn’t have happened, but it was also an example of how our community came together to take care of those victims. You’ll come to find that whichever city, whichever job or whichever group you are in, you will always have a bond with those like you in those places. We take care of each other and we protect our own, because we’ve all experienced hate or rejection at one point or another.
And while I can only speak to the cisgender, gay male experience, I hope this message also helps my lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and asexual brothers and sisters — most of whom receive the worst hate. And not to repeat a cliché but … it does, actually, get better.
If you (or someone you know) are considering suicide or face homelessness call The Trevor Project hotline at 1-866-488-7386. If you are considering leaving your home or are forced out, Human Rights Campaign has a survival guide for independent LGBTQ youth you can download here.
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