By Abbie Dodson
The Office for National Statistics claims that only 1.5% of individuals identify as gay, lesbian and bisexual in the UK, despite the Kinsey report concluding that the figure is actually 10%. This suggests that there is a preeminent taboo surrounding non-heterosexuality, and that people across the UK ignore their sexuality in order to avoid stigmatisation. These issues particularly affect individuals from older generations, or those who live in more conservative parts of the United Kingdom. National Coming Out Day aims to remove these issues as much as possible, and to stop stigmatisation surrounding the LGBTQ+ community.
The 31st National Coming Out Day is taking place this year. The celebration of the LGBTQ+ community also intends to raise awareness surrounding sexuality and discrimination. Alongside perpetuating this sense of LGBTQ+ pride, the event encourages individuals to come out as being a member of the LGBTQ+ community, or as an ally. Coming Out day aims to encourage those who are hiding their true sexuality to publically celebrate it. Whilst this is such an empowering concept, in practice, “coming out” isn’t always an option, and can be problematic in many respects. With more than one in five LGBTQ+ individuals being verbally or physically attacked as a result of their sexual orientation or gender identity over the last year, “coming out” can be dangerous.
At Sheffield Hallam Student’s Union’s LGBT+ Representative, Kirstie Rutter, urges anybody who feels pressured by Coming Out Day to Remember that coming out is optional, and that you do not have to do it. Kirsty urges that you only come out if you feel safe and comfortable, advising that “if you have been pressured into coming out please come and talk to us, and we can put you in touch with amazing groups and services or just be someone to talk to and confide in”.
With India officially decriminalising homosexuality after 24 years of legal challenges we are making global progression regarding attitudes towards sexuality. Over the last 200 years, an increasing amount of countries have made similar decisions, allowing people to marry a person of the same gender, and host Gay Pride events. However, some countries seem to be going in the opposite direction by introducing new laws strengthening existing penalties for members of the LGBTQ+ community. Last year during a police raid at a hotel in Lagos State in Nigeria, over 40 men were arrested for participating in homosexual acts, facing up to 14 years imprisonment.
Nigera has also outlawed same-sex marriages, gay groups, and shows of same-sex public affection. Russia has recently introduced a new legislation which aims to prevent anybody under the age of 18 receiving any information about homosexuality. This law sees any adult who disperses such information issued with a fine. Whilst Coming Out Day has the best intentions, individuals who live in these societies would be endangering themselves by making their sexuality known, risking violence, imprisonment, and homelessness. It is important to acknowledge this when encouraging people to “come out of the closet”. Even for individuals who live in LGBTQ+ approving societies, “coming out” is often a monumental milestone. Even though wider society is accepting of this community, coming out can often have adverse effects within the individual’s social and family structure. A national survey of 760 students, indicated that within the microcosm of school, students who are gay, or are thought to be gay are the most likely group to be bullied . In a sample of nearly 3,500 students aged thirteen to eighteen, one-third of students reported that their peers are frequently harassed because of their perceived or actual sexual orientation. Coming Out can also cause issues within families. During an interview with The Colorado Springs Independent, 24-year-old Lewis Hines discussed his fear of coming out as a transgender man to his extended family for fear of emotional abuse.
Even in a safe environment, it is also crucial that the individual who is considering coming out is personally ready to make that decision. In an interview with The Independent, Molly stated that it took her three years to come out as gay, primarily telling her friends, and then her family. After interviewing several members of the LGBTQ+ community at Sheffield Hallam University, I have been advised that coming out is more of a process, opposed to a single act that can be undertaken in one day, as Coming Out Day intends. Within the Students’ Union, there are many resources made available to you if you need support regarding your sexuality. At the Hubs, The Advice Centre is available for free, confidential advice. Sheffield Charity, SAYiT also work with young LGBTQ+ people to provide support around LGBT+ life, sexual health, HIV and mental wellbeing. SAYiT offers one-to-one sessions and group meetings to discuss these issues and help resolve any issues plaguing the LGBTQ+ community.
When LGBTQ+ Sheffield Hallam students were asked what advice they would give to people feeling overwhelmed by coming out day, they said:
“Every experience is different – don’t compare. Take time to do things in your own way, and take advantages of the resources available.”
“You don’t have to come out to everyone at once. You don’t have to come out at all if you don’t feel ready. It’s difficult to find the right thing to say, so make sure it’s someone you really trust and feel comfortable with”.