The Best Way To Be An Ally On National Coming Out Day, According To 9 LGBTQ People
Wednesday is National Coming Out Day, a day when we remember the significance of coming out. Coming out is a major step, and sometimes a traumatic one, but it can be a transformative and cathartic moment for many queer folks.
"Every year on National Coming Out Day, we celebrate coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) or as an ally," the Human Rights Council says on their site. "On Oct. 11, 2017, we will mark the 29th anniversary of National Coming Out Day. Twenty-nine years ago, on the anniversary of the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, we first observed National Coming Out Day as a reminder that one of our most basic tools is the power of coming out. One out of every two Americans has someone close to them who is gay or lesbian. For transgender people, that number is only one in 10."
Thinking about how few people in America actually have contact with queer folks — or realize they do— is mind-blowing. Even if you're not LGBTQ yourself, it's an important day to honor, because it's a day when you can be a good ally to the LGBTQ community. And part of that is understanding why coming out is so important, so you can understand what to do if you're on the receiving end of it.
"LGBTQ people have to first identify themselves privately in a world that continues to tell them that people like them are not welcome, are not equal, and then eventually try to work up the courage to announce themselves as being different," Nate Warden, founder of Coming Out, an open source platform for sharing stories about coming out tells Bustle. "Events like Coming Out Day and Pride are crucial in making this process easier because they are times when the LGBTQ community becomes visible — not just an idea, but a literally mass of people in the streets, or a collection of voices to be heard. We set an example for those who have yet to find and love themselves."
So what can you do to be a good ally today — and every other day, for that matter? Here's what LGBTQ folk had to say, because allies really do matter.
1. Zoe, 30
"Believe, believe, believe. A lot of straight people try to minimize things that happen to queer people Just be a set of ears and an open mind — you don't realize how difficult it might be for them to open to you in the first place. So don't minimize or doubt."
2. Helen, 32
"Listening is key. Listen to the person coming out to you but also listen to what they want you to do with that information. They may not be ready to share with others or talk about it more. If they are, that's their call. Defer to the person talking to you."
3. Brain, 26
"My advice to those wanting to be a good ally on National Coming Out Day is that you can’t just be an ally for one day. Being an ally means you're public, affirming, and persistent every day. Be a good ally by listening without making assumptions. Be accepting of learning something new that you may not understand. Always speak out against anti-LGBTQIA language and action, and support positive initiatives and organizations, while encouraging others to do the same."
4. Caleb, 26
"I came out when I was in high school (16) to my parents who were VERY religious (my father was a pastor at the time). Needless to say, it wasn’t the best haha. Now, I’m 26 and getting married to my long-time boyfriend next year and things couldn’t be better! Coming out is tough, so my advice is simple: Some LGBTQ people (kids, teens, and adults) still live in a world not knowing it’s OK to be different, to love who they want to love. Be a good ally by just being there for them and showing them it’s OK to live your truth. Don’t press, you never want to push someone — just be there."
5. Alicia, 28
"I am bisexual and non binary. The best ally move for my experiences is just believe my sexuality and gender expression when I tell you them, because so often people refuse to believe me because I am not always dating one man and one women or because I don't 'look' non-binary (still not sure what this means to be honest). The other best way to be an ally is stand up for me when people are saying they don't respect gender neutral pronouns or that they don't think being bi is a 'thing' — telling off these people all the time is exhausting for me, and it's so awesome when my friends will take on some of that emotional labour and do it for me. Lastly, please use the correct pronouns (they/them), I try to not make a big deal with someone messes up (because it happens so often) but it truly makes me feel accepted and loved when my friends respect my pronouns and integrate them into the way they speak about me."
6. Ross, 22
"National Coming Out Day is a day for the LGBTQ community to celebrate who we are, as well as welcome new members of the community to come out. The three most important aspects of being an ally are listening, asking questions and providing support. If you have a friend who opens up to you about their sexuality, don’t be a therapist. Remember, this is a day for them. Be a great ally by making sure their voice is heard. Listen to them, ask them how they’re feeling, and offer support as needed."
7. Drew, 51
"The reaction I have most often gotten from colleagues and other associates when I have been working on National Coming Out Day events is, 'but you're already out.' The key bridge in those conversations is having an ally who is willing to listen to why someone who is already out, as well as people who know and support them, should make it easier for others who may not be out or fully out to share themselves more fully.
We all come out at different times in different ways and to different degrees, and it's helpful if allies realize the simplest and most powerful thing they can do initially is to listen. If someone feels comfortable enough to tell you, 'I'm a lesbian' or 'I don't identify my gender or sexual identity in ways that may be familiar to you' they are really taking a leap. Allies hearing such things should be honored and should just be open to this new information. By no means should you shut down the person coming out to you, saying things like it does not matter to you or it is none of your business. They've chosen to share themselves fully with you, so please appreciate the gravity of that.
A savvy ally should also realize they probably already know someone who is gay or lesbian or bi and may even know someone who is transgender or who otherwise identifies outside your own norm. Having confirmation of this may help that ally more easily understand definiteness and better advocate for the power of diversity.
How someone comes out to you can be bumpy and perhaps awkward. Again, the best thing you can do is listen, perhaps thank that person and empathize: What if you went through every day with a significant portion of yourself hidden? What if you had to put on a different persona just to go to work or school?
Being out can mean something as simple as my being able to clearly identify that my husband is just that, my legal spouse. It enables me to be able to be completely honest with professionals with whom I deal, from my physician to my financial planner and attorney to my elected officials. Being able to stand in that place of honesty is powerful and should be afforded to anyone who wants it. Be the ally who fosters that dialogue."
8. Alex, 26
"If you're trying to be a good ally, don't hesitate to ask questions about our experiences because you feel uncomfortable. That reluctance only proliferates the toxic idea that anyone in the LGBTQ+ community is 'other' or 'less than,' so please get over it and ask us what you'd like to know. We're more likely than not ready to answer you!"
9. Katie, 26
"The best advice for being a good ally if someone is coming out to you is to just let them talk in whatever way they want about what they're experiencing. Don't try to put words in their mouth and apply your experience to theirs. This applies to straight allies as well as to queer allies (as we are also allies to each other). Your experience, even if you think it's similar, is different to theirs because individuals feel things in different ways. Do not make the conversation about you. This can be invalidating in a situation that can be empowering.
Additionally, if a person lets you know they're queer or trans* or something along those lines, never reply with 'oh I know' or something similar. This is also incredibly disempowering and takes the charged energy out of that moment for the person coming out and makes you look like you have a superiority complex — making the situation about you and not raising up their experience in that moment."
National Coming Out Day is a big moment for many LGBTQ community. But, as the advice above mentions, you should be a good ally every day. And that means showing up and listening.