Why coming out still matters.
This weekend marks the second to last for our run of ABRAHAM LINCOLN WAS A F*GG*T and also coincides with a ton of amazing Pride celebrations throughout Chicago. It feels particularly special to present this show during a time of year when the LGBT community celebrates, reflects, and embraces visibility. The fictional characters in ABE (including the version of Abe Lincoln we see played out on stage and in the heart and mind of our main character, Cal) represent a cultural cross-section of individuals that all of us have probably met at some point in real life. The optimist, the realist, the person hiding…people celebrating, deeply sad people, people expanding their views….brave people.
This Sunday, we will reflect on the idea of “Why coming out still matters” with an inter-generational conversation as part of our Sunday Symposium series. Additionally, we invited our youth ensemble members, artistic associates, board members and symposium panelists to share their thoughts on the subject here on our blog. Read on to see what a few of them had to say and share your own in the comments!
Rob Abernathy, AFT Board President
It’s all about honesty. Being honest with yourself is liberating and increases your self-worth. Being honest with others is powerful and earns you the right to get honesty from them in return. Never be afraid to admit to doing the right things in life, and being honest about who you are is “the right thing”. Being honest with the world shows the world that LGBT people are all around them, they now know someone – they know you, and you are worthy of respect since you demonstrated bravery by being honest. If you project the attitude that being LGBT is normal it is easier for others to accept that fact.
Mitchell Fain, AFT Artistic Associate
I came out at 17yo in 1983. I grew up in a very macho mafia culture town in Rhode Island. I was lucky to find easy acceptance and celebration from my best friends and family. Thirty-one yrs. later I work doing improv/sketch comedy for The Second City in front of mostly conservative audiences aboard a cruise ship.
I am unabashedly queer in my self-presentation, even singing a verse about my “ex-boyfriend” in an archival song from Second City’s main stage repertoire. The response I receive from audiences is OVERWHELMINGLY positive. Humans respond to authenticity. Old WWII vets, Latina grandmothers, Jersey frat bros all find me after the show to tell me how much they enjoy the shows and particularly my honesty and humor. I get a LOT of free drinks!! ( esp. from the frat boys!!)
There are 64 countries represented in the crew on this ship. I meet closeted men and women who are afraid be themselves. Occasionally I receive a text or FB message, some time after, telling me how my ease of authenticity has inspired them to come out and start their life free of fear. I meet straight people from homophobic cultures who tell me that my lack of shame and lack of apology about my true self has inspired them to rethink their own prejudices. I love my job. I love making people laugh. I love navigating the world on my own terms and those moments, where the fact that I am OUT inspires positive change in someone’s heart and mind… Well… I LOVE THAT the most. That is the reason why Coming Out still matters and will always matter.
Nikki Veit, About Face Youth Ensemble & Youth Task Force member
Coming out is acknowledging one’s own sexuality in a public manner.
…is courageously claiming your identity.
…is life or death.
So, why does it matter?
To acknowledge a minority of people that are still being neglected and harassed is powerful in itself. Because those of us that run for cover under the “queer” umbrella are still being marginalized on a daily basis. Even by those politicians, CEOs, commercial companies, and the like that claim to be doing good by “openly accepting people of the LGBTQ community” are too often exploiting our community to sway votes, obtain grants, and sell merchandise.
To acknowledge that queerness (in all its colors of the rainbow) is a vertical minority-it transcends race, class, age, gender, religion, political parties-is necessary as we progress deeper into the 21st century. We are everywhere. And no, it’s not a disease, it’s not contagious, it’s human nature.
But why it really matters, to quote the omnipresent statement, “we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!” We’re not going anywhere. Our voices are getting louder, our movement is getting stronger, and we are only going to keep on keeping on. So, get over it.
If you are queer, and have been blessed with the support and resources to come out publicly, I recommend doing so. It will only help those of us that are unable to come out due to fear of rejection and isolation. No one is alone in this fight for equality, so let’s acknowledge that and stand up for ourselves and our community.
Allen Ratliff, Director of Clinical Programs, Youth Service Project, Sunday Symposium Panelist
Coming out has always been a revolutionary process. Every time we say who we are, every time we push back against the status quo, we are driving human culture toward a world that is stronger for it. Coming out might be easier in 2015 than it was in 2005 or in 1995 or in 1965, but is still matters just as much.
While LGBT people in America have seen huge strides in acceptance of same-gender relationships and gender diversity, while we see out and open LGBT people across professional fields and backgrounds, there are still people who are hurt, bullied, harassed, and killed for being who they are. Transgender people, particularly trans women of color, continue to experience staggering levels of violence and discrimination. LGBT people (especially young people) experience much higher rates of homelessness, mental health issues, domestic violence, and incarceration. If LGBT people are inherently just like everyone else, which we are, then these experiences can only be attributed to the continued stress of being a queer person in a heteronormative world. We must work together, every single person, to fight against the microaggressions and macroaggressions that form systems of oppression. Come out as an ally, come out as a sister, a father, a friend, a doctor, a police officer, a social worker, a teacher, an accountant, a barista, a person. Come out and say that all human lives are valuable, important, and precious. Come out and demand that all people are treated with dignity and respect.
Coming out connects us to each other, it helps us to build relationships and communities. Gender and sexuality are tied directly to our identities and how we understand ourselves and form the foundation for our individual experiences in the world. Queer cultures have grown into beautiful and diverse cosmologies within humankind. Coming out still matters because our identities give us opportunities for connection to other people, regardless of what out individual identity might actually be. Coming out will always matter, because even when humankind finds a way to bring about collaborative global peace and prosperity, we will still all have our own individual unique experiences to share with the people in our lives. Coming out gives us the voice to celebrate our shared humanity, our shared experience of thinking, loving, hoping, and dreaming.