National Coming Out Day: What we owe to our LGBT Youth

Daniella Matthews-Trigg
Program Associate
Coming Out Day = LGBT Thanksgiving?

For me, National Coming Out day is a time to remember what we are working toward: A world where everyone is safe enough, and supported enough, and feels loved enough, to be able to come out and announce to their families, friends, communities, and the world, EXACTLY who they are.

I was terrified to come out to my parents, and put it off for a few years, hoping that if I made enough off-hand comments, or took enough queer studies classes, or rented enough LGBT movies on their netflix account, they would just figure it out and we would never have to actually talk about it. I feel so blessed and grateful that when I finally did come out to them, they were completely accepting and, while a little bit awkward at first, very, very supportive. Now both my parents are members of PFLAG, have HRC stickers on their cars, and march in their local Pride parade. I know that this is not the experience of many, many LGBT people, and I know how lucky I am.

My beautiful, amazing, supportive, affirming, loving mama marching in a pride parade in Albuquerque, NM in 2012.

This last Saturday, Gustavo and I gave a presentation on spearheading smoke-free prides at Interpride, the international conference of Pride Organizers and Organizations from around the World. While we were giving the presentation, I had a realization: With all of the emphasis on supporting LGBT youth, why has long term health (and the community’s modeling of that) not been part of the equation?

We talk about bullying, and homelessness, and coming out…but what about the other important pieces of their lives?

There is a lot of resistance to smoke-free spaces at prides. Smoking is viewed as a form of freedom and self-expression, but how did smoking become all of this? Well, decades of successful marketing paired with industry sponsorship of Prides and other LGBT events. And we continue to model this “rebellious smoker” image to queer youth with our insanely high smoking rates. Wouldn’t it be better if we modeled art, political activism, and music as ways to express ourselves instead of smoking?

The implementation of smoke free spaces at prides is a way to ensure that all of our community can enjoy Pride- It tells those who have children, those who don’t smoke, those whose health we need to protect, asthmatics, queer youth under the legal smoking age- that we care about them too, and that their attendance and visibility at Pride is important. Creating a space that touts inclusivity but is not a safe or healthy place for people to be, perpetuates the isolationism that Pride was created to undo.

On this National Coming Out day, I think that we should all pause a moment and think about why we came out…to gain acceptance from the people in our lives, to live without secrets, to be welcomed into a community that values us for who we are and respects who we love.

We owe it to LGBTQ youth to be positive role models…to show them that they can come out, into a community where we care about ourselves and each other enough to be not only happy, but also healthy.

“Burst down those closet doors once and for all, and stand up and start to fight.”
Harvey Milk

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