Walking the Talk: How Allies Can Support LGBTQ Students on National Coming Out Day

By Kelly Huegel Madrone, author of LGBTQ: The Survival Guide for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Teens 

Walking the Talk: How Allies Can Support LQBTQ Students on National Coming Out DayWe’re fast approaching National Coming Out Day (October 11)—when LGBTQ folks everywhere celebrate who they are by affirming their identities, some for the first time.

In a world that has scorned, shamed, and killed (and still does) people who are not, or who are perceived as not, heterosexual or cisgender (having a gender identity that matches one’s sex assigned at birth), coming out is an act of bravery. It’s a means of breaking the silence and erasing the invisibility that have led to higher rates of depression, homelessness, and suicide among queer youth and adults than among their straight and cis peers.

The Suicide Attempts Among Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Adults report by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reported that a shocking 41 percent of respondents to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey had attempted suicide. The report also stated that 69 percent of respondents had experienced homelessness, upwards of 60 percent had experienced some form of violence from law enforcement, more than half had family members who refused to speak to them, and a similar number had been harassed or bullied at school.

And that is only one portion of people who identify as queer or GSD (gender and/or sexually diverse).

LGBTQ people who are open about their identities are frequently accused of “flaunting it,” with many stating that gender identity and sexual orientation are “private” and “should be kept quiet.” But in a society that is heavily heteronormative and cisnormative, where the assumption is that you are straight and cis unless you declare otherwise, it is essential to declare otherwise.

Sadly, because of safety issues, internalized homophobia, fear of homelessness, and other issues, coming out is not an accessible choice for many, especially young people.

And that’s why we need you.

To make lasting change, we need numbers.

Survey after survey show that the vast majority of Americans support equal rights for LGBTQ people. But saying so on a survey is one thing; walking the talk is another.

We don’t just need your survey vote, we need your vote in elections.

We need your visibility.

We need your voice.

Your silent hope means little to the GSD couple who are not allowed to foster or adopt a child, to the trans person who was fired when she came out at work, or to the student who is harassed and feels alone.

This National Coming Out Day, I encourage you to come out as an ally—to vocally and visibly declare your support for LGBTQ people and issues.

Supporting queer folks doesn’t mean you have to become the grand marshal of the Pride parade.

It looks like saying “that’s not okay with me” when people joke about or harass LGBTQ folks.

Like putting up a “safe space” sign in your classroom and including GSD people in your curriculum.

Like signing petitions supporting LGBTQ rights and supporting GSD coworkers.

(But, yeah, the parents who show up at Pride parades and offer hugs to queer folks who’ve been rejected by their families do get bonus points.)

Last year for work I did an awareness and fundraising campaign to create safe schools. In some ways, the response was wonderful. But as I told one friend, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed by the lack of response from some of my friends.

“Well,” she shrugged, “it’s just not everyone’s issue.”

If I have learned anything over the past few years, it’s the importance of making the issue of anyone being discriminated against my issue. When it comes to safe schools, my refrain is that safe schools for queer students are safe schools for all students.

Because if any student is not safe at school, no students are truly safe at school.

In a few days, I’ll be attending a local talk on white privilege and how it influences our culture and attitudes.

I do not have time for it: I have a toddler and a new baby and a metric ton of deadlines.

But I’m going.

I’m going because as a white person, racism is my issue.

I’m going because I understand discrimination and that silence implies consent.

And I’m going because there is no end to what my heart can hold, and no distance too far for my voice to carry.

Kelly Huegel MadroneKelly Huegel Madrone is a freelance writer, writing coach, and speaker. She has worked for the Metropolitan Washington, D.C., chapter of PFLAG where she helped provide support and educational services to LGBT people and their families. The author of two books and more than 100 published articles, Kelly holds a degree in secondary education. She lives in New Mexico with her wife Mala and their daughters. Kelly welcomes readers to follow her on Twitter @LGBTQguide or visit her website at kellymadrone.com.

LGBTQKelly is the author of LGBTQ: The Survival Guide for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Teens.

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