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The Fear of Coming Out

October 13, 2022


Coming Out

In October 1998, a 21-year-old gay man named Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered in Laramie, Wyoming. His killers tied him to a fence, beat him mercilessly, and left him to die. Shepard's murder sent shockwaves across the country and drew attention to the dangers that LGBTQIA+ people face simply for living their truth.

Nearly 21 years later, little has changed. LGBTQIA+ people are still being persecuted and murdered at alarming rates. In fact, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, queer and trans people of color are 2.5 times more likely to be murdered than white LGBTQIA+ people. And while some progress has been made in terms of legal protections and public acceptance, the fear that many LGBTQIA+ people feel when considering coming out is very real—and very justified.

The Dangers of Living Authentically

For LGBTQIA+ people, coming out often means risking everything—and it does mean everything. People have been disowned by their families, kicked out of their homes, fired from their jobs, and even murdered simply for being who they are. While some places are more accepting than others, the sad reality is that there is no guarantee of safety anywhere in the world for LGBTQIA+ people.

In 2017, at least 52 transgender or gender non-conforming people were killed in the U.S., the majority of whom were black or Latinx trans women. These numbers exclude those who were killed but not correctly identified as trans or gender non-conforming at the time of their death, which means the actual number is likely much higher. And these murders are only a small part of the violence that transgender and gender non-conforming people face; according to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 64% of trans respondents had experienced physical violence and 47% had experienced sexual violence at some point in their lifetimes.

Lesbian, gay, and bisexual people fare only slightly better; according to FBI data, 1,195 hate crimes were motivated by sexual orientation in 2016 alone. That's an increase of 4% from 2015, and it doesn't even take into account crimes that were motivated by both sexual orientation and another factor (e.g., race). What's more, nearly 60% of LGBT hate crime victims were targeted because of their perceived sexuality—even if they hadn't come out yet. In other words, simply being perceived as LGBT can make someone a target for violence.

These statistics are scary enough on their own, but they don't even begin to touch on the emotional impact that this constant threat of violence has on LGBTQIA+ people. Many live in constant fear, always aware that they could be attacked simply for existing. This fear can lead to anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and even suicidal ideation. In short, it takes a toll on every aspect of a person's life.

It's easy for cisgender heterosexual people (i.e., those who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth and who are attracted to members of the opposite sex) to take their safety for granted. But for LGBTQIA+ people living authentically—or even just perceived as such—the risks are all too real. The next time you see someone struggling with whether or not to come out, remember that it's not an easy decision. For many LGBTQIA+ people, it's a life-or-death one.

Written By: 

Kollyn Conrad




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