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Shift­ing the Pow­er on Nation­al Com­ing Out Day

Writ­ten by: Don­na B., LGBTQ+ Cen­ter Project Lead

Spe­cial acknowl­edge­ments to the Q+ Crew for being bold bad­dies, our out­spo­ken allies for lift­ing us up, and any­one out there who has ever won­dered if there’s any­one else out there.

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This com­ing Mon­day, Octo­ber 11th marks 33 years of cel­e­brat­ing Nation­al Com­ing Out Day, a cel­e­bra­tion in which LGBTQ+ peo­ple are called on to come out of the clos­et” in the name of advanc­ing vis­i­bil­i­ty. In hon­or of this ground­break­ing day for the com­mu­ni­ty and of the inno­v­a­tive strate­gies that Ken­neth Young Cen­ter implores in its advo­ca­cy for LGBTQ+ peo­ple, I ask you to pon­der this ques­tion: should com­ing out” as LGBTQ+ still be the goal for achiev­ing equity? 

I asked some LGBTQ+-identified friends (all of whom are under 30) the first words that came to their mind when they think of the action of com­ing out.” These are the words they used: 

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Some of you might be per­plexed by this, maybe because the nar­ra­tive has been that LGBTQ+ peo­ple must feel relieved, lib­er­at­ed, and empow­ered by the action of com­ing out. Of course, the action” and the result” are two sep­a­rate mat­ters; some­times, things don’t feel good as we do them even though the con­se­quences ben­e­fit us (eg: why I turned off social media noti­fi­ca­tions). But why do we revere an action that elic­its such neg­a­tive emo­tions to the very peo­ple that it’s meant to alle­vi­ate, and is there a bet­ter way? Per­haps, it’s a mat­ter of words.

Com­ing Up with Com­ing Out”

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In the Unit­ed States, the phrase com­ing out” dates back on record to the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry as a term orig­i­nal­ly used in the con­text of a woman com­ing out as a débu­tante,” mean­ing that she was old enough to be mar­ried. Fol­low­ing the blos­som­ing gay cul­ture of the exper­i­men­tal Roar­ing 20s, the depres­sive 30s brought about an era of intense anti-gay rhetoric and vio­lent oppres­sion. It was then that a 1931 Bal­ti­more news­pa­per referred to a gay gath­er­ing as a Pan­sy Ball” fea­tur­ing the com­ing out of new debu­tantes into homo­sex­u­al soci­ety,” a play on words intend­ed to dis­grace men for act­ing like women. 

By the 1960s and 70s, LGBT activists were reclaim­ing the phrase com­ing out,” using it as a code word to iden­ti­fy peo­ple in the fam­i­ly”, when for safe­ty rea­sons these things couldn’t be open­ly dis­cussed. An orga­niz­er at the first gay lib­er­a­tion march in 1970 said we’ll nev­er have the free­dom and civ­il rights we deserve as human beings unless we stop hid­ing in clos­ets and in the shel­ter of anonymi­ty.” Thus, the link between com­ing out and hid­ing in the clos­et was explic­it­ly joined. By the end of the 70s, the two ideas became syn­ony­mous as evi­dent in Gay politi­cian Har­vey Milk’s famous quote: If a bul­let should enter my brain, let that bul­let destroy every clos­et door,” (a pre­sen­ti­ment that would sad­ly come true in the fol­low­ing months).

Know­ing this his­to­ry, it’s obvi­ous that com­ing out of the clos­et” is inher­ent­ly root­ed in the moral­is­tic idea that LGBTQ+ peo­ple who do not open­ly dis­close to their friends, rel­a­tives, and cowork­ers that they are LGBTQ+, are hid­ing some­thing, most like­ly out of shame and fear, and at the detri­ment to them­selves and oth­er LGBTQ+ peo­ple. It’s a catch 22: if you come out, you’ll like­ly face stig­ma and dis­crim­i­na­tion, and if you don’t, you’re fur­ther prov­ing that there is some­thing to be ashamed of.

Flip­ping the Switch

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Let’s explore the ques­tion of what we can do, or say, that advances the spir­it of Nation­al Com­ing Out Day while rec­og­niz­ing the unfair bur­den it places on LGBTQ+ people. 

A few years ago while at a con­fer­ence, I met a group of LGBTQ-iden­ti­fied Mus­lim youth from a group called MAS­GD who pre­sent­ed a phrase which I actu­al­ly felt lib­er­at­ed by. The term they used was invit­ing in,” as in LGBTQ+ peo­ple have the auton­o­my to choose with whom in their life they invite in to know about their iden­ti­ties, remov­ing the pres­sure of pub­lic dis­clo­sure and feel­ings of being a bad queer per­son” for not being out” in every cir­cle. This word­ing changed my life. Even the imagery of the phrase gives me a vis­cer­al reac­tion: in one world view, I’m alone, in a cold, dark, crypt-like space, won­der­ing if it’s worse to stay inside until the oxy­gen depletes or step into the blind­ing bright­ness to an unknown envi­ron­ment, over and over, every­where I go, for as long as I live. In the oth­er, I see myself in a cozy-lit room, very famil­iar to me, shar­ing some hot tea (both mean­ings) with friends, con­tent, safe, and every­where I go peo­ple knock on my door, but ulti­mate­ly I hold the pow­er to assess them through the peep­hole and decide if they are com­pa­ny worth keeping.

I asked my same friends from the begin­ning what they felt about the action of invit­ing in,” and this is what they shared:

  • Pow­er­ful”
  • I like it”
  • Wel­com­ing”
  • Proud”
  • Warm”

And:

  • What does that mean?”
  • Nev­er heard of it!”
National Coming Out Day Ally Post

Want to share your support for LGBTQ+ folks in honor of National Coming Out Day? Copy and share the image above to post on social media! Here's a suggestion of what to share in your post along with this image:

In honor of National Coming Out Day on October 11th, I recognize that publicly “coming out” can be difficult and may not be safe or comfortable for everyone.

Instead of “coming out”, what if we “invite in” others to our authentic selves? Check out this blog to learn more: https://www.kennethyoung.org/b...

#NationalComingOutDay #LGBTQIA+ #TogetherWeThrive #WeAreKYC #InvitingIn

Upon fur­ther expla­na­tion of the term, which is like­ly new to most, a friend told me I’ve nev­er heard that ter­mi­nol­o­gy before, but I think the phrase itself makes me feel a lot less secre­tive… Now that I think about it, years lat­er after com­ing out, I did feel like I was hid­ing this huge secret that I felt like I need­ed to share with every­one for their own com­fort… when it should have been me wait­ing to tell who­ev­er I want­ed to tell for my own comfort.” 

What if, on this year’s Nation­al Com­ing Out Day, we placed the account­abil­i­ty of com­ing out” on our cis­gen­der and straight allies? Does the idea of hav­ing to vocal­ize to your friends and fam­i­ly that you sup­port LGBTQ+ peo­ple make you ner­vous, and if so, does it make you think twice about what actu­al LGBTQ+ peo­ple expe­ri­ence on a dai­ly basis? What would it do for queer peo­ple all over the world to see their neigh­bors, teach­ers, sib­lings, par­ents, boss­es, doc­tors, and lead­ers come out against the pho­bias and ‑isms that make us feel iso­lat­ed and invis­i­ble? How would it mobi­lize efforts for equi­ty if those with priv­i­lege said I want to become some­one wor­thy of know­ing you, some­one whom you can lean on”?

We don’t know what we stand to gain togeth­er until we’re in this togeth­er, and I invite you to imag­ine the pos­si­bil­i­ties with me. 

KYC’s LGBTQ+ Resources

Ken­neth Young Cen­ter offers a range of sup­port­ive ser­vices to LGBTQ+ indi­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies. If you or some­one you know is look­ing for com­pas­sion­ate behav­ioral health sup­port, con­tact our team at 8475248800.

We also offer our LGBTQ+ Youth and Young Adult Cen­ter, a resource for youth to explore their authen­tic iden­ti­ties and find com­mu­ni­ty. We offer a vari­ety of activ­i­ties and resources through­out the year. Click here to learn more about our LGBTQ+ Center.

KYC 50 Logos 50 GLD BRST

KYC is honored to highlight 50 stories, events, and programs that capture the depth and breadth of our services during our 50th anniversary year through our #KYC50For50 campaign.


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