A discussion to accompany "Gay and so alone" by Marvin Novelo in the October 2004 issue of L.A. Youth.

Source: Beth Reis, M.S., Co-chair,
Safe Schools Coalition; www.safeschoolscoalition.org.
Reprinted with permission.

Your students may be wondering:
Why do people come out?
      Some people don’t have any choice. Somehow they’ve been recognizable as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender since they were young. Their most natural, honest gender expression differed enough from their culture’s stereotypes that they were "out" before they knew themselves.
      But other gay, lesbian, bi (and some trans) people are not particularly different from heterosexual people in their gender expression or, at least, they fall somewhere within an acceptable range of "normal" gender roles for their culture at their time in history. And they may decide to come out.
      Why? For all kinds of reasons. Because it feels phony to pretend to be someone you’re not and nobody can get really close to you when you’re pretending. Because you can’t tell whether the people who love you are just loving your mask or the real person behind it. So it’s lonely. Because it isn’t fair that other people can have boyfriends or girlfriends and you can’t or that other people can walk and talk and sit the way they like while you may have to watch every move you make. Because watching every move you make can be exhausting; it can sap emotional energy that could otherwise go into being a better student or better at your job. Because you may feel as if you’re betraying your people by not standing with someone who’s harassed or discriminated against for being lesbian, gay, bi or trans. Because it may mean preventing yourself from hanging out with people who have this important thing in common with you, if you’re worried that people will see you with them.
      Because nobody should have to pretend to be someone else in order to get an education, hold a job, get respectful health care, or be loved by their family.
      But gay youth should know that it is also OK to work for human rights in quieter ways if it isn’t safe to be "out" at this point in your life or in your particular home or work environment. So if your school is a dangerous place, if you are pretty sure your family would kick you out or beat you up, if you can’t afford the emotional or practical costs of coming out right now, know that you are entitled to walk the journey at your own pace. Nobody else gets to decide for you when the costs of silence outweigh the risks of openness. Don’t let people guilt-trip you into taking steps you aren’t ready for. Someday you will find peace in bringing your whole self to work or school and especially sharing your honest, unmasked self with the people who love you. Until then, know that your life is still a gift to the world. And there are still actions you can take to end homophobia!
      Maybe every Gay-Straight Alliance should consider reading the above statement aloud, especially if some people’s enthusiasm about human rights activism causes others to feel pressure to come out before they’re ready. We’re each on our own personal journey!

ACTIVITIES that teachers and school-based groups might consider:
— Host a "coming out" assembly where you bring half a dozen diverse lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender alumni of your school to speak to the student body.
— Create a "coming out" bulletin board featuring lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning staff, alumni and other heroes and role models.
— Write a "coming out" article for your school paper, co-authored by everyone who is willing in your class or club, not necessarily outing any of you in particular, but explaining why secrecy can be so self-destructive to the soul.
— Interview an African-American elder who once had to "pass" as white to get a job or marry the person they loved. Ask about what secrecy was like for him or her.
— Interview someone who has intentionally lost their accent and changed their name to sound more Euro-American and hide their ethnicity. Ask about what secrecy was like for him or her.
— Interview a gay, lesbian, bi or trans elder about times in their lives when they "passed" as heterosexual to get or keep a job or for other reasons. Ask about what secrecy was like.

Consider celebrations that would empower people to come out as gay, lesbian, bi, trans, queer or however they describe themselves… or as the proud child of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender parent(s) or the proud sibling or niece or nephew or grandchild of someone lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender or questioning.

CHECK OUT online resources at: www.safeschoolscoalition.org/RG-coming_out.html