This coming Monday, October 11 is National Coming Out Day. This holiday has been meaningful and even transformative in my life. I remember the first celebration I attended as clearly as if it were yesterday, and the speakers and stories I heard that day. I found a place I didn’t know I was looking for, and people embraced me and welcomed me.
Fast-forward a few decades, and such events are rare. There has been a cultural shift that has led some to question if this holiday even matters anymore. It’s true that someone coming out as LGBTQ today is more likely to be greeted with love, support, and understanding than they might have been in 1988. The odds of being surrounded by supportive friends and family, a school with inclusive policies, and a state with legal protections from discrimination, are much higher. There might even be an affinity group at one’s job. All these things are now possible—but there is also well-documented discrimination, stigma, bias, and high levels of violence against LGBTQ people, especially those who are gender diverse.
Coming out is not a singular experience. It is a process that one engages in for a lifetime. As the Executive Director of the Center for LGBTQ Health Equity at Chase Brexton Health Care, I am very focused on improving those moments when we come out to our health care providers. I want my health care providers to know my sexual orientation and gender identity. I want them to know this information is important and should be in my health record. It’s not only important for my care, but also for the aggregate demographic data that comes out of health records. The absence of sexual orientation, gender identity, sex characteristics (SOGI/SC) data on LGBTQ and Intersex people has a cascading effect that reinforces invisibility.
Still, I sometimes hesitate to come out to my providers because of the questions that run through my mind. Will my self-knowledge and openness be medicalized? Will they think that I need to be fixed? Will they say all the “right” things and yet still treat me differently? If they hold a deep-seated personal bias, will it affect the care I receive? Will my identity become office chatter after I leave the clinic? I have heard people say things like, “it’s none of the doctor’s business who I love and there’s no way I’m disclosing this information on a government form.” I understand this feeling. Many health care providers and government agencies do not consistently earn our trust. This is why the Center for LGBTQ Health Equity’s training program exists and why we teach and train health care providers. We want to help your providers earn your trust. Most providers didn’t receive much (if any) training on LGBTQ and Intersex health disparities and needs. We make sure it’s available to all who are willing to learn.
This National Coming Out Day, I am reminding myself that each time I come out, it’s enlightening to someone and might make them just a little more comfortable and ready to be supportive and affirming to the next person who comes out to them. And hopefully it will be another step toward closing the critical data gaps so that health care, medical research, and government agencies will acknowledge that we exist and need everything that all people need. Despite these deep needs for change, I feel happy on October 11, and wish you and yours a very happy National Coming Out Day.