Coming out publicly is a step towards equality

By GILLIAN LELCHUK | April 27, 2017

Two weeks ago, in The News-Letter’s Identity Issue of the magazine, I published an article entitled “Finding the courage to come out in the social media era.” Since then, I have received some incredible responses from friends, family, strangers and estranged Facebook friends.

Comments ranged from “I’ve been out as a lesbian for years and I still feel some of what you wrote about” to “I’m gay and you’re the first person I’ve told” to “you’ve inspired me to tell my mom I’m bisexual.”

All of that is amazing, and I am incredibly humbled by the response to my story. I wrote that article for myself, but messages from my friends and especially from people I haven’t talked to in years have made me realize how important that article is, not just for me, but for the greater queer community.

When I was coming to terms with my sexual orientation, having queer friends was essential. Having someone to talk to who had been through a similar experience was extraordinarily helpful to me as I sorted through my own feelings. Creating and preserving communities for LGBT+ folks is so, so necessary.

After publishing my own coming out story, I realized that many of my queer and questioning peers might not have someone to talk to. They reached out to me, and maybe that’s because they missed talking to me or because they felt like I was really approachable after literally announcing my queerness to the world. But maybe they reached out to me because they weren’t sure if they could talk to anyone else.

While I’m thrilled to be there for my friends and provide all of my queer wisdom — whatever wisdom I’ve gained in the two years (weeks?) I’ve been out of the closet — I’ve started to change my perspective on coming out. Yes, it’s totally valid to stay in the closet for any number of reasons, but I’m beginning to think that it’s more and more important to publicly come out.

Don’t get me wrong: First and foremost, you should be coming out for yourself, when you’re ready. But coming out can also be beneficial for the queer people around you, whether they’ve been out for years or still firmly in the closet.

There’s merit in coming out publicly that I didn’t truly understand until after I did it. When I came out, I added my voice to the conversation about LGBT+ issues. I gave my friends someone to talk to, and I think most importantly, I demonstrated that it’s okay to be gay, that I’m okay and that anyone can be okay.

This isn’t a call to action. I can’t ask anyone to come out on Facebook. I can’t ask anyone to write an article for The News-Letter. I can’t ask anyone to come out to their parents or their friends or me or anyone. I can’t ask that of you, and I don’t want to.

I just want to get people thinking and talking about coming out. Normalize it. Coming out is scary a lot of the time, but it doesn’t have to be, and it shouldn’t be. And the more people who come out and who talk about being queer, the easier it will be for someone else to come out. Pave the way.

There’s something in the “coming-out” language that can be inherently isolating. To be queer is to be different. To come out implies you’ve been hiding. I’ve found comfort in words like “queer,” because I’ve found a community there.

We need to foster a sense of community for other LGBT+ people, especially young people and people of color, and I think that starts with people like me sharing stories like mine. My story is entirely unremarkable, and that’s why I think it’s important to share it. I am not alone, and neither is anyone else.

In an ideal world, no one should have to come out. Heterosexuality shouldn’t be expected. No one should be afraid of rejection because of their sexuality. Coming out shouldn’t be a big deal; It shouldn’t have to happen at all.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world. Kids are still bullied for being gay, and LGBT+ people are still underrepresented on television and in the media.

But maybe if we keep talking about it, if being queer becomes as regular as having brown hair or blue eyes, maybe we can create our ideal world. Maybe we’ll be one step closer to living in an environment where queer people never have to feel like they don’t belong.

Gillian Lelchuk is a junior Writing Seminars and mathematics double major from Los Alamitos, Calif. She is the Opinions Editor.

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