HRC Blog

Coming Out as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender

Post submitted by Dan Rafter, Former HRC Associate Director of Communications

Earlier this year, HRC released a groundbreaking report that looked at the experiences of LGBT youth – from the challenges they face in their communities to how they are impacted by anti-LGBT rhetoric they hear from public figures. As part of National Coming Out Day 2012, HRC will be releasing a new study that digs even deeper into the experiences of those youth - whom they come out, in what settings, obstacles they experience, and the ways in which coming out may be related to their personal well–being, sense of safety, and their connections to family, school and community.

The New York Times spoke with HRC’s Family Project Director, Ellen Kahn, to learn more about the study – and what it means for parents of LGBT kids:

Once children are out, the pollsters for the Human Rights Campaign found, they tend to be exposed to higher levels of “frequent” verbal harassment (name calling) at school than those who stay in the closet. Seventeen percent of respondents who say they are openly gay encounter the harassment; while only 12 percent who are not openly gay reported the frequent harassment.

Why, then, wouldn’t parents be happier to see their child stall in the closet for a while? The Human Rights Campaign survey suggests an answer: as tough as it may be to be an openly gay child, it’s even harder to be closeted. Among those surveyed, 41 percent of those who are out to immediate family said they are “very happy” or “pretty happy,” while just 31 percent of those who said they had not revealed themselves could say the same. Forty percent of those children who are out at school said they were very happy or pretty happy, compared with 33 percent of the closeted kids.

…The most important thing, Ms. Kahn said, is that parents need to find ways to let their children know that their love is unconditional, and that their home is a safe place where anything can be discussed. Adolescence can be a secretive time, but “it’s the role of the parents to try to create the open path,” she said. “The adults have to do a little work here.”

In other words, Ms. Kahn said, the job of the grown-ups is to help guide their children through adolescence. The terrain may be unfamiliar, but the role is not. It’s called parenting.

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