Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are genre: Gaylingual & Six Degrees of Speculation

National Coming Out Day

If today’s Pew Research Poll says one thing loud and clear, it tells gays in the closet to come out and get to know the people around you. With almost every demographic, those who become acquainted with gays have much more favorable opinions about gay rights and gay marriage.

In the past four decades, growing numbers of gays have come out of the closet and into the mainstream of American life. As a consequence, 4-in-10 Americans now report that some of their close friends or family members are gays or lesbians, according to a recent national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

An analysis of survey results suggests that familiarity is closely linked to tolerance. People who have a close gay friend or family member are more likely to support gay marriage and they are also significantly less likely to favor allowing schools to fire gay teachers than are those with little or no personal contact with gays, the poll found.

Percentages vary greatly by political orientation: Conservative Republicans are the least likely to say they have a close gay friend or family member (33%), while liberal Democrats are most likely to say so (59%). Race seems to have virtually no effect on whether a person knows gay people well.

Among religious groups, mainline Protestants and seculars (those who don't claim any particular religion) are the most likely to say they had a gay family member or close friend, with 47% saying so. White evangelicals (31%) and Hispanic Catholics (33%) are the least likely to say they have gay family members or close friends.

People living in the south (37%) are less likely to know gay people well than are people living in the Northeast or West, and people living in rural areas (34%) are less likely to say so than those in urban or suburban areas.

The results provide some overarching strategy directives. Not to diminish the efforts of any existing LGBT advocacy group, but nothing could better state the power of the individual than these polling numbers. Further, can there be any doubt that the best means to break through existing barriers, stereotypes, and prejudices is to befriend the perceived enemy.

Let me be clear…I am not suggesting that revealing one’s sexuality to a devout evangelical will elicit tacit acceptance of homosexuality…but it may well reduce the evangelicals perception that they must rally to oppose any measure than grants LGBT individuals some degree of equality…or at the very least the assurance that those opposed to homosexuality will not seek to take away the basic rights of their fellow LGBT citizens.

The reality for gays, proven time and again in the historical chronologies of previous minority groups, is that human contact serves to dispel negative conceptions and to diminish hostility much more effectively than legislative initiatives. In fact, if one listens to the rhetoric of those opposed to LGBT rights, they frequently characterize our legal and political efforts as a militant agenda intent on imposing acceptance and legitimization of the LGBT lifestyle.

Having a background in psychology, I recall being instructed that persuasion was far and away the most successful means to achieve therapeutic change. Efforts to direct or guilt or use fear to get one’s client to alter negative or destructive behaviors often failed…and even worse, frequently served to reinforce the propensity of the client to push back, resist, and act out at escalated levels. The premise holds true with regard to changing the mind of those who oppose LGBT rights.

Speaking from personal experience, my coming out, though difficult, eventually led those who knew me, and continued to have contact with me, to see that I remained the person that they always knew…though with the addition of my homosexuality…and they came to discard the judgments they held that they had never fully sought to understand or challenge. By coming out, I facilitated that process. It also made LGBT advocates of those who would have remained adversaries.

Come out, come out, wherever you are…the title of this posting…is the best hope we have for greater LGBT acceptance. It is also an effort that, once completed, pays rewards for generations. What better legacy could one leave?

Daniel DiRito | May 23, 2007 | 3:03 PM
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