Coming out is a powerful experience. It is a story that many people in the LGBTQ community have in common. Whether subtle or dramatic, disclosing one’s sexual orientation or gender identity is often met with celebration and praise. With the advent of inclusive religious institutions, scholars, and others who make a strong case of God’s love and intention behind creating queer people, it would seem that now is a better time than any to fling open the closet door.
Despite these many gains, we must exercise caution before encouraging others to come out of the closet.
While coming out can be an empowering and life-defining experience, the blinding light of excitement around the event must not obscure the danger that exists for many should such personal information become known. Disclosure of one’s sexual and/or gender identity is intensely personal, and motivated by many factors.
As vital as one’s sexual identity or gender expression is, there are other aspects of life that need to be taken into account if they are to assume the risk of disclosure.
Personal acceptance, emotional and financial independence, and safe distance from harm are only a few of the realities to consider when an individual decides to come out. If any one of these factors are not in the person’s favor, then disclosure may actually impact their ability to have basic necessities met.
Bringing up this reality might seem negative, given the current status of our religious world.
While many churches still adhere to anti-LGBTQ theology and doctrine, there is a significant challenge to that status quo. Campaigns such as It Gets Better offers advice, encouragement, and hope for those who are struggling with their identity. Groups such as The Gay Christian Network and queer clergy of all sorts of religious practices are stepping up to aid in this process.
This issue is not that these advances in the public conversations are wrong, or even that they are not evidence of progress. Rather, the concern is that these joyful accounts are often elevated at the expense of the harsh realities that LGBTQ people still have to endure.
For some, it gets better. For many others, coming out makes things worse.
At least one trans woman was murdered each month this year.
And in early June, the mass shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando provided a harsh reminder that even our “safe places” are not truly safe from violence. Rates of homelessness among LGBTQ youth are through the roof—often the result of religious parents. Having a public gay or trans identity still puts one at risk for unemployment or employment discrimination across much of the United States.
All of these incidents are far more likely to impact queer people who are also people of color. It is a fact that coming out can lead to people coming to their end.
It is a victory to stand publicly in one’s truth. It is also true that a healthier way to honor that significant event is to make the world a safer place for people to be who they are without fear of starvation, homelessness, and death. It is important to remember that people have to “come out” because of society’s deep, unfair assumptions about who people are and how they should exist in the world.
It is not queer people who should be pushed out of closets; it should be society that is forced out of its hatred.
Coming out should continue to be celebrated. With that celebration should come the acknowledgement that it is still not safe for many to do so. The work to make the world safer for all—and to eliminate the need for “coming out” altogether—must continue.
Photo via flickr user Jeffrey Pott