It’s pride week. Yay. Time to take to the streets and be as gay as possible.
Not every queer in this city is so lucky.
Sure, we’ve got same-sex marriage and Ellen and Portia and a Pride bash that’s the envy of most hets, but many are still suffering in silence in the face of forbidding families and badly interpreted scripture in every religion.
Somewhere out there, an army of guys and girls are feeling like the only gay in the village, community or religious tradition.
The closet may not be as deep and crowded as it once was, but there are still plenty of people in it.
Here are some tips on prying open the door.
What the experts say
“Someone in the closet needs a friend, family member or therapist who can be 100 per cent supportive of all the phases people go through in coming out. A person might say, ‘I wanna come out big and strong,’ and the next day say, ‘Oh my god, I don’t even know if I’m gay after all.’ If you’re the supporter, allow the person space. If they come out as gay, that’s okay. If they change their mind, it’s okay. I encourage people to participate in Pride, where they can surround themselves with the normalcy of it.”
GRACE ROSS, psychotherapist, Toronto
“The problem in the Muslim community is there is no conversation around sexuality. Even heterosexuality doesn’t have a public discourse – ironic because in medieval Europe, one of the Christians’ criticisms of the Muslim world was its openness around sexuality. If queer Muslim youth come out, regardless of whether their family is accepting, chances are they’re not going to come out in their community. In coming out, most LGBTQ people go through a process of self-realization and then self-acceptance. Part of the process is realizing others may not jump for joy, because they need time to process. A group like Salaam can provide support and affirm identity. We are a place of shelter.”
EL-FAROUK KHAKI, founder, director and board member of Salaam, Queer Muslim Community, Toronto
“Coming out is still a huge issue for many, many people. There are so many kids on the street because their parents won’t accept it. There is no right and wrong about coming out. Yes, it’s healthier to be out. But if a young person is living at home and needs to get through school and needs security and coming out is going to jeopardize that, I’m the last person to say he or she should come out. If there are spaces where a young person can go and chill and share a lived experience with other queer and trans youth and still be closeted, it’s okay. Coming out is a continuum.”
CLARE NOBBS, coordinator of community programs, Supporting Our Youth, Toronto
“For many black youth, there is a lot of fear of being excised from their community of origin. We all have this idea that coming out is a path that looks the same for everybody, but that’s not the reality. Sometimes coming out is a revolving door. Parents of those coming out should recognize their own feelings of fear, anxiety or shame. Don’t burden your children with them. A child coming out is also a parent coming out, especially in communities that are very interwoven. That can bring up a lot of fear and anxiety, as in ‘You’re now outing me.’”
DAVID LEWIS-PEART, prevention program coordinator, Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention, author, Dealing With Being Different: A Resource Guide For LGBT Black Youth And Families, Toronto
“Coming out South Asian is very difficult. You have to know when you’re ready. I know people who came out in their 40s or 50s. We run support groups where you don’t have to explain the cultural issues. When you say something here, everyone understands. You can talk in your own language, eat your own food. Living in the closet can affect your mental and physical health. Protecting your identity becomes your whole being. Lots of men end up getting married just to please friends and family.”
SIVA GUNARATNAM, Tamil outreach coordinator, Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention, Toronto