When, how, to whom, and if one comes out is a human right. It is a process of personal choice and human agency.
I’ve been in Istanbul for the past week conducting a research study on the disclosure process of gay men between the ages of 18 to 21. This wonderful privilege came to me when Dr. Robert Cleve asked me to join the research team, as his assistant. This research is a cross-cultural emerging grounded theory design, which initially identified cultural cohorts in Sao Paulo, Brazil and Chicago. This year we received funding to expand the research to Istanbul, Turkey. So here we are…
Our hope is to get an interior view and perspective on the process of disclosure of identified LGBT individuals, as it relates to their culture of origin. What we’ve found in our flourishing analysis is that the disclosure process is informed by various elements: family of origin, culture of origin and religion. What has been true of all the cultural cohorts that we’ve looked at is: a social constructivist structure within culture is a primary determinant and mediator to one’s awareness and acceptance of sexual identity.
In other words cultures where language, social systems, legal systems, healthcare systems and government systems that uphold a heterosexist view as the correct or preferred or normative orientation tend to inform individual’s about how he/she will be accepted and embraced. Furthermore, this system tells one how she/he should accept and embrace self– such that individuals’ basis for disclosure is linked to how the individual understands where she/he will fit within the society at large.
What I want to really say is that the decision to come out is a painstaking, cost-benefits decision all the time. It is not a one time decision– it is a moment to moment, person to person, context to context decision. I always say how the large majority of LGBTQ people are not Ellen… They do not have the privilege of a one time coming-out on national television experience, like Ellen and other celebrities.
Coming out is a decision that has to be considered in every context– family, work, school, social group, church and so on… It is never one time… It is continual and it requires energy, consideration, wisdom, assessment and discernment every-single-time.
In Turkey the consequence of being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered is risky and dangerous. This week hearing stories of men fleeing their homes after being ‘discovered’ or coming out was a theme that consistently presented itself. One man from a small village had to run away from home, because he would have been killed by his family as part of an honor killing. There are almost no legal protections for LGBTQ identified persons in Turkey. When harassment or violence is reported to the police the authorities typically state that the LGBTQ individual provoked the situation and brought it on him/herself.
This is the climate and tone in many parts of the world. You can lose your job, your home, your family, your church, your community, your support… your life– that’s the reality of being open and authentic about who you are. Just being you can get you killed.
The thing is I am completely aware that in this cross cultural work I bring my Western– US of A lens to the table… In the US of A where we are so focused on marriage equality as a human rights issue for LGBTQ people– we forget the many other issues of human rights for LGBTQ that are needed– like the rights to life.
Marriage equality is a worthy cause. I get why it’s needed. I voted for it. Stories like Charlene Strong’s makes this cause so evident. However, let us not forget that the struggle does not end there and perhaps our single focus on that issue has distracted us from the many other human rights issues.
In fact, on much of the globe the right to live is a primary concern for the LGBTQ community.
– In Nigeria you can face up to 14 years in prison.
– Uganda passed an Anti-Homosexuality Bill that proposes execution to people identified in same sex relationships.
– 1,341 LGBTQ Brazilians were murdered from 2007-2012.
Even in the U.S. bullying and harassment is a prevalent issue, which can often lead to suicide. 9 out of 10 LGBTQ youth report being bullied in school. (Bullying Statistics).
This past year in New York city gay bashings were on the rise. Several gay men reported being beaten while just walking on the street.
These are a few of the reasons why choosing to disclose is a risky decision. When one comes out he/she faces potential harms that range from rejection to physical violence. In Turkey, physical harm can take place within the family of origin.
Yet, even when physical harm is not a risk there is the risk of losing family and relationships and being disowned. LGBTQ men and women all over the world face these types of risks.
And this is why the decision to come out is a human right. This is a right that each person gets to make on his or her own terms.
When participants were asked if they would go through the process of coming out to family and friends again (in that initial step) almost every participant echoed a resounding yes… stating that there is nothing like being one’s authentic, true and open self.
However, each one recognized just how personal, intimate and unique the process of coming out is for each individual. There are no two stories that are exactly the same… Yes, there are shared fears and anxieties, but the outcomes vary from one person to the next.
We finally asked, “Would you recommend coming-out to other closeted LGBTQ identified people”? One person’s answer stood out to me powerfully. He said, “Yes! Of course! There is absolutely nothing like liberating yourself to be who you are. However, I also recommend doing so cautiously, because no one knows your circumstance better than you. No one knows your family better than you do”.
This is true… No one does know your circumstance or your family or your support system or your dreams, hopes and goals better than you… You are the one that bears that knowledge. In the end, whatever decision is made the decision to choose is your choice alone– it is your human right to disclose when, how, where and to whom you choose to.
Resources & References:
Homophobia: Human Rights First
not an illness or a crime LGBTQ equality in Turkey
Uganda: Anti-Homosexuality Act’s Heavy Toll
World Report 2012: Nigeria
World Report 2012: Uganda
It Gets Better