Many people may not realise that 11 October is National Coming Out Day, a day to celebrate and raise awareness for ‘coming out’ as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGB T*). ‘Coming out’ refers to an LGB T* person openly disclosing their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Whether it’s small, for example letting your close friend know you’re dating somebody of the same gender, or big, such as Caitlyn Jenner announcing her transition, coming out is often daunting. Although we’d like to think that the majority of our society is accepting, prejudice still exists (homophobic, biphobic and transphobic hate crimes reports are on the rise), and people are often unsure. Neither, for most people, is it something that only needs doing once, as you end up coming out many times throughout your life as you meet new people.
In a year and a country in which same-sex marriage is legal, and Trans* people can change their legal gender, some may not think that the idea of ‘coming out’ is necessary. Why do you feel the need to declare your sexuality or gender identity to your friends, family or co-workers?
One key reason raised by one of the founders of the day is to increase the visibility of LGB T* people. The more people who know somebody who is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, the easier it is to persuade people that their fears and stereotypes around the community are mistaken, and the more likely they are to support equality.
There’s also the visibility factor for younger LGB T* people. A teenager struggling with their sexuality or gender identity is more likely to feel comfortable with who they are if they see role models who are openly LGB or T*, whether it be celebrities, people in their community or a family friend. Similarly, members of staff who are unsure whether they are comfortable with disclosing their sexuality or gender identity in the workplace, may feel more likely to do so if they see others within the organisation who have ‘come out’.
Coming out doesn’t have to be a public declaration, and it doesn’t have to mean announcing to everyone you meet ‘I’m LGB T*’. For those dating someone of the same gender, just talking about their partner openly, without hiding their gender, is a form of coming out. On a more personal level, staying in the closet (not coming out) often means lying, either directly or by omission, and hiding, which can take a considerable toll on someone’s mental health.
It is important that, regardless of our own sexuality or gender identity, we all help create an environment in which LGB T* people feel comfortable to be open about themselves. LGB T* people can help by being ‘out’ themselves, and not shying away from mentioning this in the workplace or social settings.
Likewise, non-LGB T* people can help in simple ways, for example, by not assuming the gender of someones partner, which lets people know that you are open to the fact that they could be of the same gender. You can also help by becoming a ‘Straight ally’, which refers to a non-LGB T* person who supports the LGB T* community – by visibly showing support, whether that be in getting involved in equality campaigns, attending events such as Pride or something as simple as wearing a Straight Ally badge.
If you’re interested in getting involved in Leeds there is the LGB T* Community Hub group, which works on improving the cultures and experiences of LGB T* communities in the city. To get involved simply email LeedsLGBT@Leeds.gov.uk and you can be added to the database.