If Your Safety Is At Risk, Please Don’t Come Out During A Pandemic

by Amber Leventry

For someone who identifies as LGBTQIA+, coming out can offer freedom; we are free of secrets, shame, and relationships that were covers or based on lies. We are free to live an authentic life, find love, and let go of masks we hid behind.

But that freedom often comes with fear and pain. We inadvertently hurt people who say they love us. People mourn what is no longer their truth when we find our own. And often people take their hurt and disapproval out on us in the form of rejection and abuse.

I have been aware of my queerness since childhood, and I know what it is like to be on both sides of the closet door. Before coming out, the feeling of being trapped was suffocating. My heart breaks for the closeted queer people who are feeling imprisoned during this pandemic. I am all about risk, authenticity, and living your best life even when it’s hard, but coming out right now could be unsafe — so I am asking you to please wait.

The longer people are asked to stay home, the harder it is. Being asked to shelter in place or stay inside is frustrating and inconvenient at best. However, for some people who are in homes where verbal, physical, and sexual abuse is prevalent, the violence against women and children has increased as tension of the situation rises. People are worried about money, are overwhelmed by their kids and homeschooling needs, and many are drinking their way through this pandemic.

LGBTQIA+ youth and adults are in danger now more than ever. Queer youth, in particular, are stuck in homes with unsupportive parents and are navigating life without schools, support groups, and Pride centers. My hope is that an out, yet unsupported queer kid has access to online groups or at least one friend or adult they can chat with through text or video calls. My hope is that they can hold on while being misgendered, humiliated, and denied their right to be their true selves.

We will get to the other side of this, but being on lockdown causes anxiety and panic and a sense of unease. These feeling have triggered emotions in me that are linked to situations in my life when I wasn’t out, and forced to stay in situations that were isolating, terrifying, and unsafe. I remind myself I am not there anymore and that I do have support, but I have been struggling with depression, increased levels of dysphoria, and moments of panic and shame. I feel stuck. I feel confined and closeted. I am thankful these are stirred memories of trauma in my body rather than being caused by currently lived experiences. I am honoring these feelings, and using them to feel empathy for the stuck queer youth or adult who can’t breathe.

I am an LGBTQIA+ educator, and after speaking at a high school event prior to social distancing, a student sheepishly approached me and told me that she was pansexual. She wanted to know if and how she should come out to her dad who, according to her, wasn’t supportive of LGBTQIA+ “stuff.” I thanked her for sharing her story with me and then asked if she had another parent or adult at home who was supportive. She told me that her mom was understanding “for the most part” but she also agreed that Dad would not be okay with a queer kid. I asked if she felt safe at home; she told me sometimes, but not always. I asked her if she self-harmed or self-medicated. Sometimes. I asked her if she had supportive friends, a therapist, or confidence in a teacher or guidance counselor. Thankfully, that was also answered with a yes.

I told this student that I could not tell her how or when to come out to her dad, but that it was important to consider all scenarios. I suggested she, with the support of her therapist and guidance counselor, should make a plan for the worst-case scenario. I didn’t scare her with statistics, but they ran through my head.

A third of queer youth are rejected by their parents; suicide attempt rates are up to eight times higher for queer youth, LGBTQIA+ youth report more physical and sexual abuse than cisgender youth, and up to 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQIA+, which is directly related to family rejection. If this student’s father was knowingly unsupportive of any sexuality that wasn’t straight, then I wanted her to know what that could mean for her. She still had three more years of school left and had to rely on her parents for food, shelter, clothing, and ideally love and support. If she wasn’t getting the last two, could she count on the first three? What happens when a parent demands you (literally) straighten up or get out?

In the midst of COVID-19, there are few to no places to go if a parent or partner forces their child or mate out of the house. LGBTQIA+ Pride centers, Safe Spaces, and shelters specifically for queer folks were already full or underfunded, but now they are either closed or only offering assistance through online meetings or check-ins. Being forced to stay in an unsupportive home may offer shelter, but it likely won’t offer safety.

Please know that your time will come, but coming out right now isn’t fair to you. Let’s get through this pandemic with as little emotional and physical abuse as possible. You deserve to be heard and celebrated. And you deserve options if home isn’t the place where that will happen.

I know how trapped you feel, in both your truth and in this health crisis. But let the schools, Pride centers, and access to supportive friends and extended family members become available again. In the meantime, there are virtual resources available, too.

The Trevor Project offers a toll-free, crisis intervention hotline (1-866-488-7386), an online TrevorChat, and a TrevorText (text START to 678678) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, all year long for LGBTQIA+ youth to talk to trained counselors. TrevorSpace is an online, peer-to-peer community for queer youth 13-24 to talk, ask questions, and make friends.

The It Gets Better Project empowers and reminds LGBTQIA+ youth that life can and does get better. The website is home to thousands of stories told by queer adults who were once closeted and scared too. Being queer does not mean a life of unhappiness.

Set up specifically for the lockdown, The Validation Station will text daily affirming messages to transgender and nonbinary people.

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline offers free and confidential 24/7 emotional support for anyone contemplating suicide or under distress.

Please reach out. You are enough. You are loved. You don’t have to be alone.