On the 34th anniversary of National Coming Out Day, LGBTQ people across the country are honoring the community and its fight for equality. But not everyone sees coming out as a celebration.
“Coming out isn’t always the best option for people of color who already — because of our pigment in addition to our identity — face discrimination, hatred and violence,” Kimberley Bush said. , Executive Director and Director of Arts and Culture Programs at DC. Center for the LGBT Community.
The first National Coming Out Day was held in 1988. Psychologist Robert Eichberg and gay rights activist Jean O’Leary, both openly gay and white, created the holiday.
In the United States, being queer — and what it might look like — is often centered around whiteness. For many, the term “coming out” continues to center whiteness as the norm for LGBTQ identities.
David Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, said: “Usually the narrative and images revolve around white people sitting down with their families and maybe having an uncomfortable conversation, but at some point, they celebrate them. These people move to gay neighborhoods like Hollywood, California, or Chelsea, NY, or Boystown, Chicago. And then they can join associations around their LGBTQ+ identities that also give them access to forms of capital and privilege that most black people don’t enjoy.
The cultural and historical myopia inherent in the term “coming out” can minimize the complicated relationship between pride, visibility, and safety for LGBTQ people within communities of color.
“It’s often difficult to be heard, seen, and simply listened to as an LGBTQ+ person, but when you add in being a person of color, that challenge becomes much more unique and saturated. We are inherently judged, without credibility for our own life stories and pushed further to the margins and often cannot take or retain power over who, when and how we disclose our identity,” Bush said.
When talking about dating, Johns, who identifies as a same-sex lover (SGL), prefers the term “invite.”
“Invitation process is a term we use to shift power and highlight the problematic nature of coming out, while acknowledging and sometimes celebrating,” Johns said.
“Inviting” means that “no one is entitled to information about the lived experiences of other people that is not voluntarily offered”.
And “invite in” reassigns individual responsibility to “get out” and challenges the heteronormative expectation that LGBTQ or SGL people should be required to “get out” themselves.
The idea of “inviting” instead of “outing” for communities of color also intersects with very real security concerns for many community members, given the current political climate, widespread escalation of threats against -LGBTQ online and attacks on community members and trans-affirming healthcare providers across the country.
“The fact that our lives are dynamic and that we face times, sometimes daily, where we have to think about inviting people and often have to consider security, especially now in the current political environment, is often missed,” Johns said.
For people of color living at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities, “coming out” can be even more dangerous due to heightened security concerns specific to communities of color.
“Black and brown humans have always had to fight for our freedoms,” Bush said. “Coming out can be a pressured, intense, repressive and oppressive journey that may not allow a person to feel the freedom to choose to invite over rather than go out. Additionally, people of color also experience exponential varying levels of trauma Coming out can be an additional layer of trauma and repetitive abuse.
In LGBTQ communities of color, interpersonal and religious violence and parental or family responses are among the traumas community members may face.
A Williams Institute study of parental acceptance of LGBTQ identities across different age groups found that parents gave disabling responses to their child’s gender identity across all age groups, and that parents many children in the younger age groups referred to their coming out as “just a phase” or something like that. the child was “too young to know”.
Religion is often used to invalidate marginalized sexual and gender identities in communities of color.
Dr Sydney Lewis, senior lecturer in the Harriet Tubman Department of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park, attributes this negative religious response to Christianity.
“Many Christian churches have a history of homophobia and transphobia,” Lewis said. “And I think our reliance on black Christianity for our community, our safety, our growth, and our development, has been detrimental to LGBTQ people of color, especially black people.”
Religious homophobia and transphobia complicate the coming out narrative for many queer people. Elle Moxley, a black trans woman and founder and executive director of the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, has experienced firsthand the harms of religious homophobia and transphobia.
“As a black person, I didn’t necessarily feel comfortable coming out or aligning myself with any rhetoric about it because a lot of times people get kicked out,” Moxley said. “In my experience, growing up in the COGIC (Church of God in Christ) religion, there was no invitation to hang out. I was expelled at 12.
While queer people have always existed, there is an intentional erasure of gay, trans, and non-binary people within Christianity that stems from colonialism.
The visibility of queer sexuality in black culture dates back to the Harlem Renaissance, when literature and music abounded with stories of lived queer experiences. And non-binary identities have always been visible and embedded in certain communities of color such as North American Indigenous cultures and Pacific Island cultures. Terms like “fa’afafine” in Samoa and “māhū” in Hawai’i are used to mean that someone identifies as non-binary (or “third gender”).
In today’s LGBTQ communities, the idea that “coming out” means being more free to openly be yourself in public often sidesteps the very real danger of visibility in trans lives of color.
“There’s this idea that visibility somehow equates to greater freedom, but for some people visibility equates to greater danger,” Lewis said.
The Human Rights Campaign reports that 31 trans people have been killed so far this year, while a study by the Williams Institute found that trans people are four times more likely than cis people to be victims of crime violent.
On a day like National Coming Out Day, which symbolizes not only pride but also inclusion, people like Elle Moxley are not asking for inclusion, but for fairness.
“I always say inclusion is something that happened after the fact. I don’t buy into that,” Moxley said. “But what I do buy into is that reparations is an essential part of how equity in society occurs.”
People like David Johns also draw attention to the complexity of a celebration like National Coming Out Day for LGBTQ communities of color.
“For the disabled black trans woman in Jackson, Mississippi, or my parents’ state of Texas, given the position these governors have them in, it’s probably not safe for them to come out even on a day when we we’re raising awareness as part of a goal,” Johns said.
(Editor’s note: This story is part of a new Blade Foundation initiative focusing on the intersection between race and LGBTQ identities. It is funded by a grant from the Leonard-Litz Foundation.)