So this week’s topic stems from my wonderful experience in New York City this weekend, for the Out for Undergraduate Business Conference. Throughout the weekend we have a number of events, workshops, discussions, and speakers.
Coming Out in General
What does it mean to “come out”?
Coming out is the process in which a person first acknowledges, accepts and appreciates his or her sexual orientation or gender identity and begins to share that with others. Coming out is a continuous process and can often be risky or difficult.
Opening up to the possibility that you may be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or even just questioning means opening up to the idea that you’re on a path that’s your own. It’s also why coming out and living ever more openly is a profoundly liberating experience.
What is a straight supporter? How do I come out as a straight ally?
A straight supporter or straight ally is someone who supports and honors sexual diversity, acts accordingly to challenge homophobic remarks or behaviors and explores and understands these forms of bias within him- or herself. Just as it takes courage for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to be open and honest about who they are, it also takes courage to support your LGBT friends or loved ones.
There are many different ways that you can show your support for the LGBT people in your life. Again, there is no “right” way to demonstrate your support, and being supportive does not require you to march in parades or become an activist. By opening up and being honest with the people in your life about knowing and caring for a LGBT person, you will be taking a small, but important, step toward making the world more understanding and supportive for that person.
Should I come out to my doctor?
One of the keys to good healthcare is being open with your healthcare provider. Doctors, nurses, physician assistants, psychotherapists and other professionals treating you need to know about your sexual orientation and gender identity to give the best care possible.
Out in the Workplace
Being open at work can be a daunting challenge. But it can also relieve the daily stress of hiding who you are. At the same time, however, no one wants to put their job security or opportunity for advancement in jeopardy. So here are some things to think about as you consider whether or not to come out at work:
Questions to Ask
- Does your employer have a written non-discrimination policy? Does it specifically cover sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression? Does insurance cover domestic partner benefits? Does health coverage cover transitioning costs?
- Is there a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employee resource group at your workplace?
- What’s the overall climate in your workplace? Do people tend to make derogatory comments or jokes? Are any of your co-workers openly LGBT?
- What are your work relationships like? Do people discuss their personal lives? Are they asking questions about yours? Is the atmosphere friendly or guarded?
- Does your state or locality have a non-discrimination law including sexual orientation and gender identity/expression?
- Is your company ranked on the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index? If so, what rating has it earned?
Once you’ve assessed your workplace atmosphere, here are some practical steps to take:
- Identify someone who is LGBT or LGBT-supportive, and talk to them first.
- Take a breath. People will often take their cues from you on how to talk and feel about LGBT issues. The more casual you are, the more likely they are to follow your lead.
- Make a plan.
- Talk about LGBT-related news stories, movies, TV shows or other topics as a way to signal your views or start the conversation.
- Bring a partner or date to company functions, or have them meet you at work one day.
- Put an HRC sticker and/or a picture of your partner on your desk.
Benefits of Being Open at Work
- Eliminates the need to hide or mislead.
- Makes deeper friendships possible.
- Breaks down barriers to understanding.
- Builds trusting working relationships.
- Lets us bring our “whole selves” to work.
- Being open can make you more productive, and can even benefit your career because your peers will see you in a new, perhaps even courageous, light.
Out in School
The 2009 survey of 7,261 middle and high school students found that at school nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT students experienced harassment at school in the past year and nearly two-thirds felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation. Nearly a third of LGBT students skipped at least one day of school in the past month because of safety concerns.
Key Findings of the 2009 National School Climate Survey include:
Student Experiences, a Hostile School Climate and the Effects on Educational Outcomes and Psychological Well-Being:
- 84.6% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 40.1% reported being physically harassed and 18.8% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their sexual orientation.
- 63.7% of LGBT students reported being verbally harassed, 27.2% reported being physically harassed and 12.5% reported being physically assaulted at school in the past year because of their gender expression.
- 72.4% heard homophobic remarks, such as “faggot” or “dyke,” frequently or often at school.
- Nearly two-thirds (61.1%) of students reported that they felt unsafe in school because of their sexual orientation, and more than a third (39.9%) felt unsafe because of their gender expression.
- 29.1% of LGBT students missed a class at least once and 30.0% missed at least one day of school in the past month because of safety concerns, compared to only 8.0% and 6.7%, respectively, of a national sample of secondary school students.
- The reported grade point average of students who were more frequently harassed because of their sexual orientation or gender expression was almost half a grade lower than for students who were less often harassed (2.7 vs. 3.1).
- Increased levels of victimization were related to increased levels of depression and anxiety and decreased levels of self-esteem.
- Being out in school had positive and negative repercussions for LGBT students %96 outness was related to higher levels of victimization, but also higher levels of psychological well-being.
Positive Interventions and Support:
- Having a Gay-Straight Alliance in school was related to more positive experiences for LGBT students, including: hearing fewer homophobic remarks, less victimization because of sexual orientation and gender expression, less absenteeism because of safety concerns and a greater sense of belonging to the school community.
- The presence of supportive staff contributed to a range of positive indicators including fewer reports of missing school, fewer reports of feeling unsafe, greater academic achievement, higher educational aspirations and a greater sense of school belonging.
- Students attending schools with an anti-bullying policy that included protections based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression heard fewer homophobic remarks, experienced lower levels of victimization related to their sexual orientation, were more likely to report that staff intervened when hearing homophobic remarks and were more likely to report incidents of harassment and assault to school staff than students at schools with a general policy or no policy.
- Despite the positive benefits of these interventions, less than a half of LGBT students (44.6%) reported having a Gay-Straight Alliance at school, slightly more than half (53.4%) could identify six or more supportive educators and less than a fifth (18.2%) attended a school that had a comprehensive anti-bullying policy.
Out with Family
Coming Out To Your Family and Friends
After coming out to yourself the next step can be quite difficult: Sharing your sexuality with your loved ones and friends. One of the overriding fears of coming out is the fear of rejection from those we love. You may wonder if your family or friends will stop loving you. Some family and friends have a hard time accepting a gay loved one, while others are extremely supportive.
Coming out goes well many times, but sometimes it can go poorly.
Not everyone is comfortable with same-gender loving people in any form (being gay or bisexual), which makes coming out to others a risky choice. To most, the rewards far outweigh the backlash from a not-so-comfortable family member. But first, you must get to that stage of self-acceptance.
Many of us tend to assume that an openly homophobic family includes everyone. Often times, we don’t give all of our family members an equal change at communicating their comfort level. We either shut them all out or let them all in depending on the response of those in which we look for the most acceptance (usually our mothers, fathers or primary caretaker).
Some family and friends will accept you for who you are. They may not vocalize it right away, but they will once they’ve had time to process your revelation. This may be a cousin, sibling, uncle, aunt or several aunts. If you choose to confide in one, confide in them all. Don’t let the rumor mill do the job for you. You’ll inevitably lose some loved ones in the battle, but continuing a relationship with those that love you unconditionally is a beautiful experience.