APA is featuring the voice of an ally on National Coming Out Day, because allies have a powerful role to play in changing attitudes. People who are prejudiced can have their attitudes changed simply by knowing that people they know have friendships with LGBT people. This is the extended contact effect. In the following blog post, Diana Popp of the Know Us Project (KUP) guides us through her own “coming out” journey from being a silent ally to telling her story in support of LGBT people.
By Diana Popp (Communications Coordinator, Michigan Project for Informed Public Policy)
October 11 is National Coming Out Day. This is my own “coming out” story. Not as an LGBT individual, but as an ally to those revealing their sexuality. Sure, I had gay and lesbian friends. I was liberal-leaning and my 60’s soul was committed to equality. I mean, seriously . . . how tough could this coming out as an ally be?
I found out when I joined the Michigan Project for Informed Public Policy (MPIPP). One of my first tasks was to work on the KNOW US PROJECT ™. KUP is a practical and interactive skill-building application of scientific research. Our goal is to help build grassroots support for LGBT equality.
Experience informs us that LGBT people experience discrimination, oppression and even abuse after coming out. Therefore, KUP uses mental health professionals as facilitators to help program participants prepare themselves for the painful psychological effects of sharing their stories.
Most of the recent progress in the struggle for LGBT equality is because more people say they know someone who is gay or transgender. KUP teaches people how to talk about their experiences. Hearing those stories moved me from a silent ally to an activist.
Is there such a concept as an “ally closet?” Do allies “come out?”
I don’t know. Here’s what I do know:
- I can never compare my experiences as a more visible ally with those who are LGBTQ and experience stigma and discrimination daily.
- An “ally’s closet” isn’t likely to look like the closet lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people know. Our risks are not the same.
- Nevertheless, we struggle with what to say and how to say it and who to say it to. We worry that our own stories, often a blend of the stories of the people we care about and our personal values, are somehow insufficient by comparison.
- Regardless, this commitment to LGBT equality is now as much a part of me as my DNA.
And, frankly, the results have been more positive than I could have imagined.
- A retired teacher quietly told me about her concern for LGBT students in the classroom and social media bullying.
- Another close friend disclosed her confusion about a transgender relative who is transitioning.
- LGBT friends are more open about the challenges they face and their relationships.
By having these discussions with others, I am helping to build an extended coalition of LGBT allies. And I have to admit I now have a more satisfying connection to many people in my life, most importantly to my husband of 43 years who has made this journey with me.
So, on National Coming Out Day, here’s my message if you are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender:
Reach out to allies for support and action. Tell us what we can do to help. I am not unique. We are here in far greater numbers than you think. We allies have “moveable middle” friends, a voice, and a vote.
And here’s my message if you are a silent ally (as I used to be):
Tell your straight friends and family why you are an ally – and tell the LGBT people you know that you’re an ally and ready to help improve their quality of life – one conversation at a time. I have learned that each conversation builds confidence and the next conversation becomes easier.
And to all those involved in the struggle for LGBT equality:
Check out the Know Us Project ™ at www.knowusproject.org and contact us (email Judith@mpipp.org or Melissa@mpipp.org) about using KUP to help end discrimination. It’s free, easy to facilitate, and research shows it works!
We want to hear from you. Tell us in the comments:
- What can we all do to be better allies to LGBT friends, family members, and coworkers?
APA’s Office on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns has a wealth of resources on the mental health of LGBT individuals, including:
- Answers to Your Questions For a Better Understanding of Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality
- Reducing Sexual Prejudice: The Role of Coming Out
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