October 11 is National Coming Out Day, celebrating those who publicly identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT), and allies. Coming Out Day is an opportunity to acknowledge the courage it can take to live openly as LGBT and raise awareness about the issues that still face our community.
Whether or not to come out is a deeply personal decision—and one that might not be right for everyone. For those who decide coming out is right for them, the experience can be extremely powerful and rewarding. People who come out can experience a boost in their well-being—experiencing less anger, less depression, and higher self-esteem.
However, the benefits of coming out depend on support—or lack thereof—that people receive. Some individuals, especially young people, may be afraid coming out will affect their safety. As many as 40% of youth who are homeless or at-risk of becoming homeless identify as LGBT, with an alarmingly high percentage attributing their situation to family rejection because of sexual orientation or gender identity.
According to the CDC, compared to LGBT young adults who faced little to no parental rejection, LGBT youth who experienced high levels of rejection are:
- Nearly 6 times as likely to have high levels of depression;
- More than 8 times as likely to have attempted suicide;
- More than 3 times as likely to use illegal drugs; and
- More than 3 times as likely to engage in unprotected sexual behaviors that put them at increased risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
While coming out may not be for everyone, we can all work to create an environment where people feel empowered and supported, not pressured, to come out. Here are some suggestions for observing Coming Out Day this year:
- Share your own coming out experience or listen to others. Fenway’s Young Leaders Council will be hosting a Coming Out Day celebration featuring a diverse panel of coming out stories.
- Post positive Coming Out Day messages and resources, such as this blog or these resources from Out for Health.
- Talk it out. Whether you’re out or not, there are resources available for people who need a sympathetic ear. Fenway Health’s own LGBT help line provides a safe place to talk about coming out, relationships, safer sex, and other issues. Call toll-free at 888.340.4528.
- Come out to your health care provider. Out for Health has some great tips on talking to your doctors about your sexual orientation and gender identity.
- Consider coming out. Is it time? The Human Rights Campaign offers this resource guide to coming out.
- Come out as an ally. Even if you don’t identify as LGBT, publicly voicing support the LGBT community can help create a supportive environment for friends and family who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or trans. You can also prepare yourself to respond supportively if a friend or family member comes out to you.
How are you observing National Coming Out Day? Tell us or share your own coming out experience in the comments!