Coming out comes with challenges

Brigid McCarthy

When freshman Lee Gaines of Shrewsbury came out to their family as pansexual and nonbinary, they were swiftly and promptly written out of their great grandmother’s will.

“She was very, very Catholic. She went to a Catholic school, she almost was a nun,” Gaines explained. “It’s fine. I lost a pair of shoes, that’s about it.”

In a heteronormative society, LGBTQ+ teenagers must “come out” to families and friends about their gender and sexual identities. While not all LGBT youth get written out of family wills for their honesty, many face similarly marginalizing consequences like parental pressure, school ostracization and in extreme situations, complete familial rejection. According to The Trevor Project, LGBTQ+ youth make up an estimated 40% of the homeless youth population; of that population, as many as 60% are likely to attempt suicide.  

Strictly upheld religious values sometimes foster unsafe home environments and prejudice in family members, like in Gaines’s situation. An anonymous bisexual senior also explained that if he came out to his religious parents, “they would probably say it’s against [our] religion or ‘just a phase,’” he said. “I would want to come out to my parents eventually, probably not while I’m still under their roof in case of anything bad.”

Students who fear extreme consequences from their parents and guardians find refuge at CHS, surrounded by friends of similar identities and accepting personalities. The aforementioned senior is, in fact, out to everyone at school. However, the accepting educational environment at CHS isn’t necessarily free from personal prejudices.  

“I had an incident freshman year where I had a pronoun sticker on my locker and someone tore it off,” said junior Hayden Minard of Union Beach, who is a nonbinary lesbian.

According to a 2015 study done by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, 85% of LGBT students have experienced verbal harassment at school. Additionally, 58% of LGBT youth have felt unsafe at school due to their sexual orientation and 43% have felt unsafe because of their gender identity. While nationwide progression has been made in terms of LGBTQ+ acceptance and rights, there are risks that come with being yourself, especially as a teenager.

Still, the draw for LGBTQ+ teens who choose to come out of the closet is the ability to live unapologetically and authentically: a privilege heterosexual teenagers may take for granted.

 “With coming out, it really depends on your situation and where you live and how your safety is measured. There’s no reason to come out if you can’t,” Minard said. “I came out because I wanted to be myself.”