With all of the latest and tragic news stories about the loss of life and continued suffering of gay people just for who they are, the time is ripe for the Human Rights Campaign’s “National Coming Out Day” on Monday, October 11th. National Coming Out Day is a means for gay, lesbian, and transgendered people to stand out and be proud of who they are in the hopes of gaining both inner peace and more acceptance in this crazy world.
In the past several weeks, eight young people have taken their own lives as a result of anti-gay bullying and harassment in this country. Though it always seems that things like this happen in bunches, anti-gay sentiments and actions are found all too often in the news. I believe that the only way to minimize this sad state of affairs is for more people to be out. Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese tells GLTNewsNow.com that “the more we as LGBT people tell our stories and engage others, the closer we are to achieving equality,” and I couldn’t agree more.
I’m in a unique position as both a gay person and an ESL teacher. On one hand, I belong to a minority that is subject to much discrimination and on the other most of my students are of Latino background and are also targets of discriminatory actions and speech, simply for being who they are. As their ESL teacher, I am responsible for much more than just teaching my students how to speak English. Many of them are with me for years and I get to know each of them pretty well. Oftentimes I find myself giving them life lessons that they haven’t gotten at home.
One of my favorite of these lessons that I think we all could learn from has to do with stereotypes, prejudices, and the ensuing harassment that is perpetrated as a result. It’s a fact that all groups have some sort of negative stereotypes associated with them: gay men are all effeminate, lesbians all look like men, African-Americans and Latinos are more likely to commit crime, Jewish people are frugal, etc., etc., etc. The list goes on and on.
Reality tells us that although some of these stereotypes can be found within all of these groups of people, they are simply not true for everyone in them. Yes, there are some Polish people who are a little less intelligent than the rest of us. Yes, there are some overweight people who dress like slobs and smell badly. There are some Christians who are bigoted. Overall, though, the majority of people who fall within a stereotype simply do not fit it, yet are pre-judged as such.
The key to breaking down stereotypes is experience. It is human nature to fear the unknown, and when it comes to fearing a certain group of people, it’s mostly because there’s little or no experience with people from that group. I tell my students all the time that each and every interaction they have with an American is an opportunity for them to breakdown these unnecessary prejudices that continue to plague our society. They have a duty to their own group, to show people through their interactions with them that they are no different than anyone else. The same can be said for gays.
Many people who harbor prejudices against gays or any other group do so because they’ve had little experience with them and base their own views upon what they see and hear within the public realm. Gays have it a little easier from many other groups in that many of them can hide their sexuality from others, but this carries with it a great many consequences. For one, a gay person in hiding does nothing towards breaking down prejudices as the people in their lives have no idea they’re interacting with a gay person. The more people that are in the closet, the less others will come to know the truth that not all gays represent the hateful stereotypes that so many harbor.
The inner anguish that comes from keeping these very big skeletons can also lead to tragedies like the ones we’ve been hearing about lately. The stress at believing that you have to live a lie to be accepted is too much for some people to handle. To me, it’s such a sad commentary on society.
As with all of the other ethnic groups, not all gays are feminine and not all lesbians are masculine. We come in all stripes just like everyone else. Many would be surprised to see how many people in their lives are gay, yet keep it hidden from view and every single one of them would help to break down the barriers that are edified out of ignorance, whether willful or not, by coming out of the closet. This is why National Coming Out Day is so important.
The Human Rights Campaign is one of the leaders in fighting for gay rights and helping to quash homophobia once and for all. National Coming Out Day has been encouraging closeted people to show their faces since 1987 in the hopes that people will finally realize that gay people are just everyday people, and do not deserve to be treated with malice simply for the fact that they are gay. Check out the HRC’s Facebook page below to find out more.
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