So Jodie Foster has finally, sort of, come out publicly. Sure there had been rumours for years and most of us who form part of the LGTB community knew she was a lesbian. Even as celebrities continued to come out, Jodie Foster still remained in the closet. Foster cites her personal privacy as part of the reason she has never come out publicly. As far as she was concerned she had already come out to those around her and she was living an authentic life. One must ask the question why she should be expected to come out.
Many reasons exist for LGTB to come out publicly. The most important reason is for our youth. Role models are critical for young people. The more we stand up and say yes I am LGTB the more our youth see that being LGTB is not only a viable option but one that can actually make them happy. The more of us who stand up, the more visibility we have the less likely LGTB youth are to hate themselves.
Celebrities have even greater visibility; their role in society is magnified. This is why it is so important for them to acknowledge their sexual orientation. Trans celebrities are in a unique position to help youth and parents to understand what may be happening in their family.
As long as LGTB youth are killing themselves in large numbers we all share the responsibility to be role models.
 I heard it described as a ‘glass closet’ – basically everyone could see who she was even if she wasn’t going to come out.
The RCMP has recently released a video featuring gay and lesbian members. It is a great video of compelling coming out stories and serves to smash some of the myths that surround job opportunities for gay men and lesbians. While I really liked the project when it first started in 2010, I am now not so sure how effective the project is in inspiring youth and preventing suicide. It does seem that the RCMP is a little late to the party.
Characterizing the teenage years as something that has to be endured is not overly helpful. Youth need help now rather than hope for the future. Imagine flashing back to your teenage years and the cesspool that is high school. If you are in anyway different or deviate from the norm, your peers will sniff it out and exploit it. Bullying is rife in our schools and it is still claiming lives with alarming frequency. While not all bullied children who commit suicide are gay or lesbian, there is a higher overall suicide level amongst queer youth. As a teenager, being able to imagine a different life, outside of the microcosm of high school is near impossible. Years seem like decades and the time someone is being tormented does not pass quickly.
Instead, I think it is incumbent up LGTBQ adults to be role models. We need to be out and visible. Growing up lesbian, I did not see or meet any other lesbians until I was an adult. Not having any role models was extremely confusing for me as I knew I was different but didn’t really have a reference point; I didn’t know what was different.
Members of the LGTBQ community must resist the urge to blend into the community. It is really easy to move to the suburbs and just blend in. Instead we all must realize we have a responsibility to provide support and modeling for queer youth. If we are serious about ending bullying and youth suicide we must be visible and be prepared to educate people. We must challenge transphobic and homophobic remarks. In particular, as equal marriage marches on, we must not abandon our trans brothers and sisters who are still fighting for basic rights.
What do you do to be a positive role model?
 I even submitted a video.
Today, Deb and I were at Safeway picking up a few things. We were doing our usual shtick, teasing each other. This time it was about the deviled ham I had put in the cart. Deb, as a new vegetarian (again), was mocking my choice. I then made a comment about not teasing me, to which, the cashier piped up and said: “isn’t that what friends are for?” I then replied: “or partners.” Well. You would have thought I grew a third head. The air turned icy and it seemed to take forever for her to ring through the rest of our groceries.
After we were in the car we had a discussion about what had happened. I feel the need to challenge people’s assumptions about us. I have been doing it for a very long time. I resent the fact that people believe they can make assumptions about our relationship. Sometimes they see us friends, other times it is as sisters. People just never think outside of the box and consider that we might be married. I think this fact is exacerbated by the fact that we are women. Women, outside of heterosexual relations, are rarely seen as sexual beings.
All of this, of course, is about discourse. As long as we live in a hetero-normative society these kinds of assumptions will be made. We are all so busy assuming everyone is heterosexual that we do not recognize different sexual orientations. Along with the discourse of heterosexuality goes the rampant homophobia within our society. Where we live, there are not as many LGTB people as there are in Vancouver. We live very close to the bible belt and the views which are predictable of neo-Christians.
What is the answer? Well, we need to begin to challenge heterosexist views. Not everyone is heterosexual. By assuming everyone is space is not given for people to be different. This lack of space creates huge problems for youth who are different. Without role models youth have difficulty seeing LGTB people living happy, productive lives. Queer people need to become a positive part of the general discourse, i.e. magazines, TV shows, stories etc. Perhaps if we incorporate more images of queer people into our media we will start to see some positive change. Every time we challenge people’s assumptions, we start to break down barriers and make room for different kinds of relationships.
Today is National Coming out Day. The purpose is for those of who are LGTB to come out and let those around us know our sexual/gender orientation. When I was younger this was a much more important event. Those initial ‘coming out’ events are very, very stressful. Any of us who have gone through it definitely understand. Telling friends and family that you are queer has the very real risk that you will lose that person in your life. I can remember deciding I was going to come out to someone and being completely petrified by the whole prospect.
Coming out to my parents was by far the most difficult. My sister told them ahead of time to kind of ease the way. It still didn’t matter. While I was not disowned, they certainly were not receptive in any way. I decided not to tell them until I had someone I wanted to be with and take home to meet them. The first time they met Deb, we had been together almost a year and they were incredibly rude. My step-father did not talk to her and my mother picked a fight with both of us. It was a disaster!
Over time, as you live your life completely out, coming out is not an issue. Now, I do not ever have to bother coming out. I just live my life openly. I talk about my partner and my life just like everyone else. I never thought that would happen. When I was young I had become so accustomed to that heart pounding in my chest feeling when I came out that I never imagined my life would be as it is now.
Coming out is a continuous project. It takes different forms and can be done in different ways. Regardless, being queer in this society requires constant negotiation. Coming out and living your life truthfully takes guts and courage. If you know a queer person, congratulate them on their courage today.
By all accounts Brendan Burke was a decent young man who had recently come out to his family. His father, Brian Burke, is the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Coming out is difficult enough let alone in a family where pro sports figure prominently. It could not have been easy for young Brendan to tell his father he is gay, and his father, bucking the trends of homophobia in pro sports, accepted his youngest son. Brendan died on Friday, succumbing to injuries he sustained in a car accident.
The whole process of coming out is extremely difficult and complicated. Many of us, at least from my generation, put off coming out as long as we could. Some of us opted to live a lie for a very long time before coming out. Some of us came out via supportive relatives. When I told my parents they believed that I only thought I was a lesbian because I was fat. According to my mother, I simply just needed to lose weight and voila I would find a man. I guess my mother has never seen a fat woman with a man.
Some parents react even more strongly. Some youth who come out lose not only their parents acceptance but their homes as well. The suicide rate for lesbian and gay youth is much higher than that of their heterosexual counterparts.
Some families come around in time. My family is an example of a family that was able to work through the issues and ultimately accept their gay or lesbian family member. My mother has come a long way in 11 years. She completely accepts me and Deb as a couple. Given that the first time they met my father would not talk to her and my mother tried to pick a fight. Most days I think my mother loves Deb more than she loves me.
It is time to make coming out a non-event for today’s lesbian and gay youth. We all have a role to play in making this a reality. When someone tells a homophobic joke we need to challenge them. We need to support our gay and lesbian friends and acquaintances and those who have gay and lesbian children. It is time to embrace diversity and move towards a more inclusive and accepting society.