October 11th is Coming Out Day. I can’t help but wonder what it is that prompts a gay person to come out. Especially in a place like a workplace, where your very livelihood is at stake. As a straight person, I can only imagine and I would never have the audacity to say this is something I know or feel. In last week’s Closet Talk interview with Jen Dugan, of the 1st Annual Nationwide You Are Loved Chalk Messages Project, Jen told her own coming out story and how surprised she was at the support. Many individuals told her that had they known, they would have supported her. She used the words “It goes unsaid.”
I wrote those words down. I know that for me and many straight friends, support goes unsaid. So why does it go unsaid and how can we say it? Perhaps more importantly, I would love to hear from LGBT folks what clues you look for to know that it is safe to come out to someone? A recent study showed that only 27% of LGBT people are completely out at work, even in companies with anti-discrimination policies.
Back on topic. We straight people, who support equality, have been trained not to ask; not by don’t ask, don’t tell. We feel like it is a matter of respecting someone’s privacy. You worry that all we will see is your sexual orientation or gender identity. We worry that you will think that is all we see.
So what are some ways that you can show your own values? If you think of it this way, it’s easier to see what you can do. Because then you are just being yourself.
If you hear remarks that are negative toward LGBT people, speak up. It could be in private or during the conversation. It can be as simple as “I didn’t think that was nice/funny/appropriate.” If it’s a good person that you feel is just naive, do it privately and let them know you are sure they are not the kind of person who would want to hurt someone. I grew up in an environment where people told racist and ethnic based jokes. I didn’t realize how hurtful those comments could be until someone told me.
If you have gay family or friends, talk about them in the same ways that you would a straight friend or couple. You don’t have to focus on the gay part. Focus on who they are as people. Most of the gay friends I have feel like being gay is not the most important thing that you should know about them.
Never hear anything negative and you don’t have gay friends? Do you like a gay musician or actor? Did you like Will and Grace? Glee? Modern Family? Do you go to a gay-affirming church? All of these will reveal something about your values.
I have an HRC equality sign visible in my cubicle. LGBT people recognize it immediately, yet most straight people are not familiar with it. When people ask me, I tell them what it means. I find that if I let someone know my values, they either show their support or simply move on. No one has picked a fight with me yet.
Last, but not least, if you are LGBT, just be yourself. You don’t need to be an activist. In fact, just being yourself is the best thing that you can do for yourself and the LGBT movement. Because when others see you as a real person who just happens to be gay, that is when they are the most supportive. 83% of people who know a gay person as family or friend are supportive of equal rights. There is a message in that statistic for straight people who don’t know anyone gay.
geekgirl: Jude is a straight woman, a mom and has been married for 32 years to the same wonderful man. She believes in Buddhism and attends the United Church of Christ. She is a molecular biologist, her best friend is a lesbian, and she believes that every human deserves equal rights, respect and a life free from hate, fear and discrimination. The only thing she hates is pickles. Her science blog can be found at LGBT Latest Science.