Coming out for the first time undoubtedly a pivotal moment in any LGBTQIA+ person’s life. The act of coming out can involve self-affirmation, opening up to loved ones, and fostering a feeling of belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community. So it's fitting that there's an entire day dedicated to honoring this experience — and Oct. 11, 2018, marks the 30th anniversary of National Coming Out Day. If you're not a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, and wondering how to be an ally, know that there's no better time to celebrate the powerful act of coming out. While Coming Out Day is about honoring LGBTQIA+ people, allies can still play a role in showing their acceptance and support.
National Coming Out Day, which was founded by The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) in 1988, is aimed at honoring the experiences of LGBTQIA+ individuals while also educating allies on how to take action. According to the HRC, one out of every two Americans has someone close to them who is gay or lesbian, but that number is only one in 10 for transgender people. While cultural attitudes toward the LGBTQIA+ community have improved over the last 30 years since Coming Out Day launched, there is still much work to be done around promoting acceptance and understanding of and within the LGBTQIA+ community.
As the HRC aptly puts it: “Every person who speaks up changes more hearts and minds and creates new advocates for equality.”
Being an ally can help to shift perceptions of and attitudes toward the LGBTQIA+ community, but what does this role mean? How can you embody it in the most effective way? Moreover, how can you use your voice to create change and improve the lives of those who have been historically marginalized? Allies have a responsibility to educate themselves and others on the importance of acceptance and equality, and they can do this in a number of ways. Of course, being a good listener, and keeping an open mind, are essential — but there is so much more to this role. Here's what you can do to be the best possible ally on Coming Out Day, according to Clare Kenny, GLAAD Director of Youth Engagement.
As an ally, it is important to constantly educate yourself, and ensure that you’re well informed about the LGBTQIA+ community.
"All people, LGBTQ and allied, should commit to learning more about the issues the most marginalized members of our community face," says Kenny.
Do some reading about important moments and events in history. Learn the terms you need to know and their significance, in order to ensure that you’re always being respectful and inclusive. Familiarize yourself with the issues and concerns that are affecting the community. To be clear, it isn't the job of the queer community to educate you on these issues, and doing the research yourself will go a long way in enabling you to engage in sensitive conversations as an ally.
There are plenty of informative resources online geared specifically toward allies, such as the Human Rights Campaign’s Coming Out As A Supporter Guide and Ally’s Guide to Issues Facing the LGBTQ Community. By educating yourself as much as possible, you’re equipping yourself to not only understand and empathize with the LGBTQIA+ experience in a new way, but also to speak out in a more respectful and helpful way.
Reach out to any individuals or couples who you know have come out. Acknowledge their experience, and celebrate their perspective. Pay attention. Ask questions. Learn from their experiences. Listen with an open mind and heart.
"The best allies I have are ones who don’t assume they know everything about sexuality and gender," Clare Kenny, GLAAD Director of Youth Engagement, tells Elite Daily. "It is natural to assume that one’s own experience is universal, especially when you are someone who sees their reality reflected in culture, media, government, and in education. Listen to LGBTQ people about their experiences, the issues they are facing, and their vision for a more accepting future."
Remember: Coming Out Day is not about your allyship, it's about the community you're serving. So be sure to let the LGBTQIA+ community know that you’re looking for ways to help. They might even be able to guide you as an ally, whether that means posting on your social media accounts about your support, or joining an LGBTQIA+ related Facebook group.
While scrolling through your social media feeds, e-newsletters, go-to blogs, and other media, you’ll likely come across some stories about LGBTQIA+ people, particularly on Coming Out Day. Take the time to hear their voices, and ideally, share their stories. You can also scope out the LGBTQIA+ at your local independent bookshop, or seek out an LGBTQIA+ publication.
Follow influential people in the LGBTQIA+ on Twitter or Instagram, such as Dan Savage, co-founder of the It Gets Better project and sex advice columnist; Cleve Jones, activist, cofounder of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, and creator of the AIDS Memorial Quilt; Laverne Cox, star of Orange Is The New Black and a transgender LGBT advocate; Ross Murray, director of news at GLAAD; and Benito Skinner, comedian, actor, and LGBTQIA+ activist. Remember: Many individuals in this community simply need to be heard, but their voices are marginalized. Giving them your full attention is one of the simplest yet strongest ways you can be an effective ally. Most importantly, be willing to embrace a diverse range of backgrounds, ideas, and stories.
"When someone tells you who they are, who they are becoming, or who they want to be, it is important to affirm them and embrace this change with an open mind," says Kenny. "You may not understand or even accept the information at first, but promise them — and yourself — that you will work every day to learn more about who they are and how to support their community."
Social media provides a platform to use your privilege to the advantage of the LGBTQIA+ community. Keep in mind, however, that Coming Out Day is about amplifying voices within the community, not your own.
Show your support.
There are lots of ways to show your support on Coming Out Day. The HRC suggests a gesture as simple as putting a sticker with a symbol — such as the Human Rights Campaign equal sign or the PFLAG logo — on your car, in your office, or in your home. The more visible the place the better — the idea is to proudly show your support to as many people as possible.
You can also seek out LGBTQIA+ writers, painters, musicians, and other artists — and support them by buying their work and sharing it with your network. Check out the LGBTQIA+ page on Kickstarter and back some campaigns you believe in, or the Arts & Culture programs celebrating LGBT artists at The Center. The Queer Cartoonists database can help you to find queer artists as well.
The meaning of the word “ally” is “a person who helps and supports somebody who is in a difficult situation.” These are just a handful of ways that an ally can support the LGBTQIA+ community on National Coming Out Day. Remember: Being an ally doesn’t just mean supporting this community for one day — it’s a role you take on every day. Always be open to listening and learning from LGBTQIA+ people, be curious about their experiences, share their stories, and speak up when you hear anti-LGBTQIA+ language. Encourage others to do the same. And if you aren’t sure how you can be most helpful, ask an LGBTQIA+ person what you can do.
As this day is ultimately not about you, it's important to defer to someone in the community to find out what they need from you. Most importantly, you should accept that you don't already know everything there is to know about the challenges that LGBTQIA+ individuals face on a daily basis — entering conversations prepared to have your views, opinions, and overall understanding changed, and you'll be a much better ally for it.
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