Sunday 17th May 2020 was International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. It is significant that this year this falls when many LGBTQ+ people are in lock down with their families or relatives to whom they have not disclosed their self-identities.
Back in April 2020, during the initial stages of the coronavirus lockdown, the LGBT+ and homeless charity, The Albert Kennedy Trust, advised young people not to come out until the pandemic has passed. The charity specifically supports LGBTQ+ young people aged 16-25 in the UK who are facing or experiencing homelessness or living in a hostile environment. LGBTQ+ people make up 25% of all youth homeless people; so staying silent on one’s sexuality or gender, even with its emotional toll, seems preferable at this time.
‘Coming out’ has been romanticised into a celebratory event that offers freedom of expression and reinforces the love between friends and families of the LGBTQ+ person. The relationship to the closet renders visible what has previously been hidden. For some, the act of coming out actualises sexuality and activates authenticity of self. Coming out to oneself and others therefore disrupts the prevailing silence perpetrated by homophobia, transphobia and biphobia.
Yet, coming out should not be idealised, and it is not desirable in all contexts. The closet is also a safe space. Moreover, coming out is not a single act, it is strategically repeated and managed throughout an individual’s life course. It is therefore multi-dimensional and multi-directional.
Jason Orne’s work demonstrates how coming out is often tactical where risk is assessed and planned beforehand. He explores the concept of ‘strategic outness – the contextual and continual management of identity – to emphasise the role of social context in sexual identity disclosure’ (2011: 681). Being out is selective: young people may be out to their friends, at university or to chosen groups, but that does not necessarily mean they are out to everyone.
Legislation in the UK does not treat LGBT family rejection as domestic abuse, thereby preventing vulnerable people from securing emergency housing. At a time when the pride flag comes to symbolise hope for the NHS and is displayed in the windows of many houses, sadly many young people are behind the very same windows working out and wrestling with who they are.
References: Orne, J. 2011 ‘You will always have to “out” yourself : Reconsidering coming out through strategic outness’. Sexualities, 14(6), 681–703.
Dr Chris Greenough is Senior Lecturer in Theology and Religion at Edge Hill University.
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Main image: Stafford, England, UK – 2nd April 2020: A picture of a rainbow with the stay home save lives instruction and thank you message to the NHS.