Tag Archives: coming out

Gender & Sexuality 101 – A Helpful New Guide

So often I speak with teachers, therapists, and other allies who want to be of assistance but are stymied by the terminology — especially about the difference between gender and sexual orientation.  They’re often practically desperate to ask about these things so they can interact with LGBTQ folks in a helpful way, or at least without being offensive!

Transgender? LGBTQQAI??

Language around issues of gender and sexuality can have real impact.  Many times people stifle conversation for fear of saying the wrong thing.

Caryn B. Oppenheim, with support from Safe Schools Coalition, has produced a great new guide that can help teachers, schools, gay straight-alliances, college groups and many others answer some of these questions and problems.  With sections on “Fluidity, Categorization, and Vocabulary”, “Coming Out”, “Language and Homophobia”, “Intersections of Identity”, “Testimonies” and “International Perspectives” it should really help you feel more “in the know” as you work in your community.  Whether you’re a parent, trying to help your child’s school get more educated about LGBTQ issues, or a gay therapist new to the terminology around gender, this guide will go a long way toward creating some shared language — maybe helping us all understand a little more.


What’s It Like for Gay Kids in Public Schools?

A great interview by NPR on “Talk of the Nation” with Judy Chiasson with the Office of Human Relations, Diversity and Equity at the Los Angeles Unified School District and Eliza Byard, the executive director of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, also known as GLSEN.  Listen to it here.

Judy Chiasson

Two important points are made in the interview.  First is that a safe school for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students is a matter of educational equality.  LGBT students who are bullied at school miss more school than other students and often, therefore, miss out on important educational opportunities.    The other point is that not all LGBT students require the same level of service.  This is important because it emphasizes that being LGBT in itself is not a cause for intervention and resources.  Problems arise from a non-supportive home or school environment and from the homophobic culture that we all live in.  Youth who have supportive families, teachers and friends may only need assistance in clarifying their needs or identity, if that.  Other  youth may struggle with discrimination on different levels.

NPR does a good job of outlining the most important aspects of the youth experience and how some schools and organizations go about making a safer, more equal environment for all youth.

Some advice for parents of young gay men

Parenting young gay men is not always easy. Between working through your own possible issues with his identity, and figuring out how to (and if to) tell the rest of the family, you still end up with concerns. All parents wish to keep their children safe, happy and healthy. Parents want their children to do more than survive, they want them to thrive. This article addresses this and the duty of all parents to provide a supportive, safe environment:

It seems that more gay teens are coming out than there were not too many years ago.  Most gay guys are likely to wait until they are older, perhaps until after they have moved from home, started college or even a career, before they find the courage to share that important aspect of themselves with their family or (in some cases) even their friends.  In fact, a large portion of gay men never come out to one of both of their parents, something that is frequently an issue of great

Get this sticker!

regret after a parent’s passing.  A parent need not be enthusiastic about a child’s sexual orientation, whether gay or straight or somewhere in between.  In fact, many of us would prefer to think of our children as totally non-sexual beings as long as possible.  However, a parent does need to be supportive of a child in a number of important ways.

Read the rest at Home and Family.

And, for a beautiful, uplifting essay by a mom of a young gay man, see “My Perfect Gay Son

Creating a Safe Place for Youth

The national organization, SafePlace works with communities and neighborhoods to create safe places for kids at risk.  Signs placed a restaurants, buses, youth centers, recreation centers and more indicate to young people that this is a safe place to go when in crisis.  They can request help from an employee at the designated safe place who will contact SafePlace.  A SafePlace staff person or volunteer will meet the young person and help them find help and resources.

SafePlace works with all youth and youth issues and can help in setting up safe spaces for LGBTQ youth to find help.  Bullying, harassment and homelessness hit all youth and impact LGBTQ youth particularly hard.  Efforts to create safe spaces for youth must include youth seeking help with sexual or gender orientation.

The Ames Tribune printed an excellent article on the effectiveness of safe space in schools in reducing harassment and bullying of LGBTQ youth in schools.

What is important about this is that it doesn’t take large amounts of money or time to set up a safe place in your community.  Simply indicating to youth that you or your organization is a place to go to obtain help gives youth a way to obtain help that they may not be able to access at home.  This is grassroots assistance at its best.  Visit SafePlace’s website for more information on setting up safe spaces for all youth in your community.  See GLSEN for information on safe space in schools for LGBTQ youth specifically.  See their “safe space kit” to get started.

Giving Back…

The New York Times printed a lovely, short interview with a young transman who was a former participant at the Hetrick-Martin Institute.  At 24, he now is a youth worker there.  The support and information that LGBTQ youth receive at centers like Hetrick-Martin are invaluable not only for keeping our youth safe, but for producing, aware, dedicated young activists:

“The Hetrick-Martin Institute really changed my life, honestly. As a youth, I went there when I had nowhere else to go to. It was a place where they accepted me for who I was, and I always thought that if I had a chance to go back and help create a safe space for someone else, I would do so. When I was a youth there, the staff were like our mothers, our fathers. As a staff member now, I find that I take these kids home with me. I look at the young people as the reason I get up every morning.”

Read more at The New York Times.

They’re coming out younger and younger

Happy National Coming Out Day!

Keith Haring's "National Coming Out Day"

Keith Haring's "National Coming Out Day"

Today is the day that the LGBTQ community has designated as a day to be sure to tell someone else that you are not heterosexual.  Why?  Because research shows that people who know an LGBTQ person are much less likely to be homophobic and are much more likely to become open-minded about LGBTQ issues such as gay marriage, hate crime law and protection of LGBTQ youth in schools.

This is also a day, I’ve noticed that straight allies come out as allies.  As LGBTQ youth come out younger and younger, it is all the more important that there are strong allies to youth available to advocate for them, accept them and just plain understand them.  It matters not if the ally is straight or not.  It simply matters that there are many out there who are open about their willingness to stand up — sometimes at their own personal risk — for a young person.

I can attest that some of the strongest allies to the LGBTQ community that I know of are friends and family of LGBTQ people:  The mom of a young gay man who started a PFLAG chapter, the daughter of an out gay man, a sister who puts on programming for PFLAG, a niece of a transgender man who goes out of her way to speak up for transpeople, and a mom and dad who are now regulars at the Dignity USA conferences.  These people carry their ally-ship beyond their families.  These people are teachers, therapists, writers, doctors and retirees who come to the side of LGBTQ people on important issues in large and small ways.  From posting on Facebook to writing a column in a newspaper to changing an intake form to incorporate non-straight identities, these are strong people who have done their own work to not only “accept” that there loved one is LGBTQ but have gone out of their way to make the world safer for everyone.

So, to everyone who comes out today, to everyone who has been come out to, to allies who have helped make it possible, thank you.  It is through being  proudly non-heterosexual that we show the world that there is truly nothing to fear.

Some wonderful articles on coming out have run recently on coming out including the New York Times Magazine piece on coming out in middle school. The article is as much about the adults around them — parents, school counselors, teachers and LGBTQ youth advocates as it is about the students themselves.  Many of these allies were not prepared for youth to be coming out as early as 11.  Many struggled to overcome their own biases or still are.  The piece highlights the power of adults in the world of these youth.  The strict, anti-gay father or the principal who has failed to crack down on anti-gay bullying can cause significant hardship for these youth and their families.  Advocates in any relationship to young people — parents, a school nurse, a para at school or an aunt can be a life preserver for these youth.  Those who have someone to advocate for them are stronger, healthier, and more resilient.

You never know what 10 or 11-year-old is out there looking for someone who might “get it.”  Maybe you won’t even speak with them but just the sight of your rainbow sticker, HRC button, your PFLAG Mom hat, “Safe Space” Sign, or even you holding hand with a partner might alleviate a young person’s loneliness and depression. So, come out as LGBTQ or an ally.  Without realizing, your making the world that much safer.



For more information, see HRC’s tools for “Conversations from the Heart” — how to start a conversation on National Coming Out Day for LGBTQ people and supporters.

Or, watch their video “Conversations from the Heart”

When NOT to Come Out (Yet)

Sometimes it seems like most of the articles for LGBTQ youth are about coming out (telling parents, friends and family about your gender or sexual orientation).  From how to come out to parents to coming out to teachers and instructors, you might feel like there is overwhelming pressure to “come out” right away.  It is true that many LGBTQ folks feel happier and more fulfilled when they are able to be open and honest with others, and in turn receive acceptance and support.  I feel that the coming out process can be really helpful and healing.  However, there are times, especially for youth, when it may be better to wait to tell some people.

One of the most important things in coming out is deciding went and if to come out to certain people.  This can be a really hard decision.  For, one the one hand, it is hard, and can be really stressful to continue to be addressed as straight and keep your identity private with the most important people in your life.  One the other hand, it may not be safe or useful to come out to some people right away (or ever).

Here are some examples:

Santiago is out to his parents and best friend who have both been really accepting.  He feels fairly comfortable with his orientation but gets angry and sad sometimes that he is not out at school.  However, his high school has greeted other students who have come out with less than a positive attitude and the administration doesn’t seem to want to help much.  He has one year left and neither he nor his parents feel like it would be worth it to fight a battle with the school at this point.  He decides that he will keep it with a few close friends and come out at college but still sometimes feels upset that he has to stay silent.

Rachel grew up in a fairly conservative religious family.  She realized she was a lesbian when she was 12.  She is out to her dad, whom she has always been close to but he asked her to not tell her mom, who he feels would take it hard, or her grandmother, who is 82, very ill and very against homosexuality.  She decides to go along with it for awhile, but finds herself becoming very depressed and anxious for “lying” to her mom.  She comes out to her mom but decides to leave grandma out of it.

Devin realized that although he was born female, that he really identifies as a boy.  His parents told him many times that if ever “decided” to be gay, they would kick him out of the house and he believes they mean it.  Although it causes him anxiety, he decides to say nothing to them until he graduates and can support himself.  He finally confides in a teacher he is close to, which helps him feel better and able to get through the next year.

Ayana comes from a close-knit family.  She is nervous about coming out to her parents.  She’s been secretly going to a group for LGBTQ youth for the past month.  She wants to tell her parents right away but is afraid of their reaction. She talks over the risks and benefits with one of the counselors for that group and decides to talk to a trusted aunt.  Then she and her aunt will talk to her parents.

Here are some important questions to ask yourself:

How much do I need to come out? Is staying quiet with a certain person making you feel anxious, depressed or worried?  If so, coming out to that person may be important.  It may still be useful to be patient and make a safe plan for talking to them, like Ayana did in the example.

Whom is safe to come out to? Although most information for LGBTQ youth is about coming out to parents, many youth find it safer to come out to a trusted instructor, friend, sibling, or counselor first.  Some youth decide to wait to tell parents until they are financially independent or never tell their parents.  All of those choices are ok and your safety should come first. You might like to make a list of supportive people in your life and rank them according to who might be most accepting.  Get creative — is there at teacher at school who has given a talk on diversity that included LGBTQ issues?  A friend who mentioned liking a LGBTQ themed movie?  An office at your college or school that has the “safe space” poster outside it (some examples of the posters here)?

Is it useful to come out? You might feel mad that your parents don’t want you to come out to your grandparents or someone else.  After all, shouldn’t you just get to be who you are?  I understand that — and it is important to ask if it will be helpful to you to come out to that person.  How much will it change your life to come out to grandma or an uncle you never see?  On the other hand, if someone is close enough to you that you really feel like it would make a difference in your life, you may wish to consider talking to them anyway.  Take the dynamics of your familiy into account.

If I do feel like I need to come out, but can’t to a certain person or people, how can I safely reduce anxiety, depression or worry? If you decide you need to come out but feel it wouldn’t  be safe to be out, for example, at school, or to parents,  you might have a number of feelings and it can be really hard to keep your true self a secret.  Definitely try to find some safe people and resources! You might consider attending a LGBTQ youth group to have other people to talk to.  Does your high school have a Gay-Straight Alliance?  Most colleges have LGBTQ student centers or groups.  PFLAG is a great resource and is in many places where there is no LGBTQ youth group. You could come out to someone who you consider to be safe, whom you trust — this reduces the feeling of loneliness or depression for many.  You could find an LGBTQ-friendly counselor or therapist.  Discuss with people you trust about how to get by if it is not safe to come out to others.   Keep in mind that while the Internet is a great resource, there are those who don’t have your best interests in mind out there.  Never reveal personal information to strangers.

When should I come out? This can be an  important part of your decision.  If someone is going through a hard time, they might find it harder to be open to your news.  For example, if your brother is going through a divorce, that might play into your decision.

What if I am ready to come out? Check out this great, honest guide from OutProud.  The Human Rights Campaign has a number of guides, including for people of color, transfolks and others at http://www.hrc.org/issues/coming_out.asp

What if I need more help? If there is an adult you trust, such as a teacher or school counselor, you might want to ask them for help.  You could also seek services at a local LGBTQ center (find one at Center Link) , or find a LGBTQ knowledgeable therapist (often your local LGBTQ center will keep a list of therapists). This can be a stressful process for people of any age and support can be very helpful.  A skilled therapist who is aware of LGBTQ issues should be able to help guide you through the process.

It takes a lot of courage to come out and just as much to stay quiet, if you find that you need to.  In the end the decision is yours and you might experience pressure on both sides to come out and to stay quiet.  Being true to yourself and making your own best decision is a wonderful gift you can give to yourself.