A powerful story has been circulating across Facebook and the rest of the web. It explains how one essay “I’m Christian, Unless You’re Gay” by Dan Pearce inspired a teen to come out to his mother and in essence his whole town through a school assignment related to the essay. You can read the story here.
There is no doubt that what the teen did was incredibly brave. He came out and came out with the explicit purpose of working to change the mindset of his religious and anti-gay community members. This was a noble and a very powerful decision. His act of self-expression clearly impacted at least one person, his mother. She accepted him for who he is and was so affected she contacted Dan Pearce to share the story.
This story is circulating so widely that according to Pearce’s comment on his blog Single Dad Laughing he will not post for a few days because his server keeps crashing. Clearly large numbers of people have been touched by the post, many of whom are likely youth.
For me, this knowledge evokes hope but also fear.
If read in a vacuum, without a discussion of ramifications or supports to seek out if your coming out story does not have a happy ending, we may be setting youth up for disaster. And I do not use disaster lightly.
Coming out can mean being kicked out of one’s family, which in turn can lead to division from siblings, loss of health insurance, financial support, and of course, homelessness. These concerns are not speculation. During an address at the recent White House LGBT Conference on Housing & Homelessness HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan said 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBT. Half of these youth became homeless as a direct result of coming out.
In addition, youth who are out in their communities, particularly unwelcoming ones face significant concerns about their safety. According to the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN)’s 2009 National School Climate Survey, 9 out of 10 LGBT students experienced harassment at school in the past year. About two-thirds of gay, lesbian and bisexual youth felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation.
As adults we need to talk to LGBT youth about these potential ramifications, as well as the supports available to address them. We need to ask about safety plans and organize resources. We need to discuss different options and teach cost benefit analysis. Is being out to your parents more important to your emotional well being than access to housing, food, medical insurance or funds for college? The answers to those questions can only be answered by the youth, but they can be prompted by an adult.
I know the power an informed adult can have on life of an LGBT youth. During a college visit senior year of high school I read an article by a gay student in the college’s paper. The writer encouraged youth looking to come out in college to weigh the impact of the decision on their access to college funds. It included tips on gauging parents’ potential responses and gave suggestions for where to find coming out resources. The article gave me the tools to weigh the decision of coming out to my parents and I have shared those tips with many friends who would have lost financial support and perhaps access to higher education if they came out to parents. I know for me, the information led to waiting until I was financially stable and living on my own which made the coming out process more positive for me, as well as my parents.
We have every right to be hopeful that a youth coming out can change a community, but we have an even greater responsibility to ensure that youth will be safe and prepared to deal with the aftermath if it does not. So I ask you, if you are inspired by this story, do not just cheer for this teenager. Become more involved in the lives of LGBT youth so that you can share hopeful stories like this one, and so you can also be there if things don’t go as planned.
Getting Involved with Local LGBT Youth:
Reach out to Jess Cohen, Youth Services Director at the Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley, to discuss volunteering in the Youth Center, to tutor youth or to chaperone an event.
Phone: 585-244-8640, ext. 13
Resources for Youth in Crisis:
*I would refer them to Jess Cohen. Please see her information above.*
The Center for Youth also provides other emergency housing and crisis resources for youth who have lost access to resources after being kicked out of their homes (whether they came out or the decision was related to other issues).
Here is their contact information:
You can talk to a counselor 24 hours a day by calling 585.271.7670 or 888.617.KIDS (5437)
Or you can email us at: email@example.com and someone will respond to your email as soon as possible.
If you are looking for the nearest Safe Place location, you can text 69866 and you will get instructions on how to get to the Safe Place closest to you.