October 12, 2020, was National Coming Out Day, and our partners in the Gender and Sexuality Campus Center, a department within Student Affairs, authored the following message about coming out and how we can show support to our LGBTQ+ friends, family members, roommates, or other important people in our lives.
Friends of the Gender and Sexuality Campus Center:
Each October, people across the country celebrate LGBTQ History Month and National Coming Out Week. National Coming Out Day, October 11, marks the anniversary of the 1987 LGBT March on Washington, which was a protest condemning the U.S. government’s lack of response to the AIDS pandemic, and which led to mass civil disobedience at the U.S. Supreme Court the next day.
National Coming Out Day is a remarkable reminder of how far individuals and institutions have come with regards to uplifting the rights, voices, and experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals, while bringing into sharp focus the work that still remains. This year, in the midst of a global pandemic, a state violence uprising, and the upcoming federal election, we know that building community power is more important than ever. NCOD is a time to celebrate community and also work toward liberation, in large and small ways, from all roles and entry points.
On an individual scale, it is not uncommon for students (and other people in our lives!) to use the occasion of National Coming Out Day to disclose their LGBTQ+ identities to their families, friends, roommates, or other important people in their lives. Whether they are coming out again, or for the first time, we’d like to offer the following resources and tips:
- When someone comes out to you, an appropriate response is always “thank you.” Whether you feel like you’ve “known” for a while or if the information comes as a surprise, thanking the person for their disclosure and asking “Is there any way I can support you?” indicates your willingness to be a resource. Avoid assuming that they are struggling or are depressed about their LGBTQ+ identity. Take this opportunity to celebrate this important step with them.
- Layers of intersecting identities, like race, ethnicity, immigration status, socioeconomic status, dis/ability status, and religious/faith affiliation make each coming out experience unique. Coming out looks different to each person; similarly, reactions, responses, and resources can be different.
- The experiences of trans people are vastly different than someone who is coming out in their sexual orientation/attraction identity. Even if you do not have experience supporting someone who is disclosing their trans identity to you, rely on your skills as an active listener, good friend, and ready resource to help support that person.
- People may come out in very public ways like posts on social media, particularly Facebook. In cases of social media, information about someone coming out may be met with harmful online comments and have ripple effects that may not have been considered. For example, a person who comes out on Facebook may not have fully considered who might be able to see the post or comment, like coworkers, previous or current classmates, or family members. When you see the person next, react with affirmation or, if it’s appropriate for you to do so, comment on the post in a manner that communicates acceptance and encouragement.
- Remember that coming out is a process and that person will likely have to choose to whom and the right time to come out to family, friends, coworkers, classmates, roommates, and others. Many times, people choose to be out in one context or setting in their life, but not in another. As you can imagine, this can be very stressful. It is important to affirm to people that the process and journey of coming out is independent of timelines, deadlines, or spans of time and that there is no “wrong way” to come out.
To help you act in solidarity with LGBTQ+ people across all identities, there are many resources that you may pass on and reference, including many handouts on the GSCC website, lgbt.wisc.edu. Please visit that site, our Instagram (@uwgscc), and follow us on Facebook (/uwgscc) for the most up to date information.
National Coming Out Day gives communities a historical touchpoint to mass movement protest as well as the opportunity to recognize the vibrant, unique contributions of queer and trans people in their lives. Thank you for uplifting with us.
With pride –
Warren Scherer, Katherine Charek Briggs, Tiffany Lee
and the Gender and Sexuality Campus Center community