October 11th is National Coming Out Day in the United States, celebrated each year to mark the anniversary of the 1987 National March in Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.
After generations of advances in the LGBTQ community marked by milestones like the Stonewall riots 51 years ago and the US Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality in 2015, the coming out is more accepted than it was before. And that doesn’t just happen once.
“Coming out is not a single event. I experience this in my own coming out which is still evolving,” said Woodland, using his / her pronouns. “I feel like I’ve had several coming-out events.”
It’s harder to get out during a pandemic
“The pandemic has meant being alone a lot and thinking about what I want as a person,”
She had moved to town in hopes of spending lots of time at concerts and parties, but the pandemic has made it a little harder to stay in close community with LGBTQ people.
“I couldn’t go to many places,” she said. Instead, she now has FaceTimes with several LGBTQ friends.
And it expresses itself through strange works of art, through painting orders and work in clay.
“I include a lot of women in my art because women are beautiful,” she said.
Full acceptance of their identity has been a problem for LGBTQ youth across the country.
A third said they couldn’t express themselves at home. and almost a third of transgender and non-binary adolescents said they had not felt safe in their life situation since the beginning of the pandemic.
This survey also highlighted the negative impact on well-being of news of violence against black people, especially among black LGBTQ youth. 78% of respondents said the news had a negative impact.
“This year has been difficult for everyone, but it has been a special challenge for LGBTQ youth and especially for black LGBTQ youth at the crossroads of multiple tragedies,” said Amit Paley, CEO and Executive Director of The Trevor Project.
The organization reported that calls to its crisis support line (1-866-488-7386) have doubled from pre-pandemic volume.
More young people had come out
The percentage of teenagers who identify as LGBTQ is more than twice that of adults in the United States. 4.5% identify as LGBTQ.
But being open can also come at a cost. According to a study by scientists at the Williams Institute published this month in Science Advances magazine, the general LGBTQ population is almost four times more likely to be violently bullied than non-LGBTQ people.
Fewer sales outlets under Covid-19
These are all problems Woodland is trying to solve with its clients and therapy support network.
He focuses on using healing righteousness as a framework for how people move into their identities rather than talking about mental health, a term that can be problematic for vulnerable communities that can be exploited by racism, skill awareness, or drugs.
“The root of our suffering often has to do with structural violence,” he said.
Coming out as LGBTQ can therefore be particularly problematic for people of color who may already feel at risk in their daily lives. And the coronavirus pandemic adds another layer.
During the pandemic, many who found a safe and supportive community to love while exploring their own sexuality may have had to move home or take in life situations that are less conducive to being comfortable with undressing.
In LGBTQ communities, the “chosen family” can play a more important role in life than the biological family. Separation from this select family during the public health crisis can lead to emotions that feel “intense and unmanageable,” according to The Trevor Project.
This can include boredom and restlessness, which can lead to substance abuse or risky behaviors to alleviate these feelings. Or the pandemic could force people to stay with family members with whom relationships may be strained.
“People are protected in place and some of these environments are extremely toxic,” said Woodland. “It can be with people who are unsupportive and that takes a toll emotionally and spiritually. The pandemic exacerbates things that already existed.”
For example, gay clubs, which have long been a cornerstone for exploring burgeoning sexual identity, may not be an option given the risk of infection.
For those starting a coming-out process for the first time, Woodland recommended joining a coming-out group, especially one with multiracial members.
“You need peer support to get your bearings,” he said. “First and foremost, find your church, find your people.”
For example, these groups might allow you to role-play beforehand on how to get to your sister or brother. “When you get out to your family, it prepares you to come out to others,” said Woodland.
“Something I think is important is allowing people to have their own unique process.” he said. “The coming out process is so sacred. Carve out some space and be curious.”