Comment | Coming out is still important

For many young people coming out is the scariest thing they’ll ever have to do.

Coming out to their parents, their friends, distant relatives, even course mates and colleagues, can be a genuine nightmare. One day it’ll be enough to mention that you’re dating someone and for nobody to bat an eyelid. But for now there are many who don’t believe these events should be newsworthy.

This week the tabloids were a blur of articles about Ellen Page coming out in an inspirational speech at a Human Rights Campaign ‘Time to Thrive’ conference. Page stated that she felt “a personal obligation and a social responsibility” and that she was “tired of hiding”. Despite how progressive we think our society is, we still turn a blind eye to the struggles of those who are scared of ‘coming out’. The reason why celebrities like Ellen Page, Tom Daley, Laverne Cox and Michael Sam publically coming out is so important is that when a prominent public figure stands up and says “I am gay” it forces people to examine their prejudices.

Only once discrimination is no longer an issue can people be freed from potential threats to their wellbeing on the basis of their sexuality. Only when the LGBT community is no longer subjected to prejudiced views can we stop having to ‘make a point’ in public announcements about sexual orientation.

For straight people, sexuality isn’t something that needs to be proclaimed. Straight people are unlikely to worry about losing their jobs or families because of who they love. For sexual minorities however, it is often a constant internal conflict. Thousands of youths still try to kill themselves, and 90 per cent of LGBT students are reported to have been harassed in 2011, according to thetervorproject. Many adults also live in constant fear of being ‘discovered’ and losing their jobs or friends.

Although Ellen DeGeneres and Neil Patrick Harris both proved being proud of who you are does not have to be detrimental to your career, both faced great difficulties directly after coming out, highlighting that there is still a long way to go and it is far from being a ‘non-issue’.

The act of coming out eliminates differences between opposing sexualities, allowing people to understand that there is nothing wrong or abnormal when they meet an LGBT individual. Those who know someone LGBT are more likely to be supportive. Equally, LGBT people still need help on their journey to acceptance and hearing from individuals who have equally suffered and emerged on the other side will continue being empowering until greater equality is achieved worldwide.

Simply proclaiming that it ‘doesn’t matter’ whether someone is gay is not only wrong but upsetting to many. Of course it matters. That person has likely suffered internal conflict, social isolation and great anxiety. No, it is not their defining characteristic, and by coming out they are not reducing themselves to a label. Rather, sexuality and the struggle that many people have lived through are an integral part of their identity. If they feel they have a social obligation to come out, and show that LGBT individuals CAN succeed to those struggling, it should be applauded and not shrugged off.

Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician elected to public office, said that every person who comes out gives another hope. It is just as true now as ever. So long as there is prejudice and inequality, it will continue to matter.

Anastasia Kennedy

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