Coming out as LGBTQ can be intimidating, but it can also be an extremely powerful act, the Human Rights Campaign says. That’s why the HRC started National Coming Out Day 29 years ago.
Today, LGBTQ youth are coming out to their family and friends at younger and younger ages, said Valerie Frias, president and executive director of advocacy organization Greater Boston PFLAG.
That means it’s even more important for family members, friends and officials in schools to become LGBTQ allies, and that’s where GBPFLAG comes in.
PFLAG is a national LGBTQ advocacy group founded in 1972. The name originally stood for “Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays,” and the group has since expanded to include “parents, family and friends,” and also works to support all members of the LGBTQ community.
The Greater Boston chapter works with more than 20,000 students across the state of Massachusetts every year, Frias said, to create safe and inclusive spaces for LGBTQ students, and also to create non-LGBTQ allies, so that the entire school is accepting of those who come out.
“Changing those hearts and minds really does matter,” Frias said. “Research shows that if you are in a climate in your school that is supportive, the risk of engaging in behaviors that are harmful to yourself go down by six, seven, even eight times depending, on the behavior.”
Those Harmful behaviors LGBTQ youth are at risk of include self-harm, suicide, substance abuse and skipping school.
The good news, though, is that there’s a “certain level of acceptance and openness in Massachusetts,” Frias said. There are also more positive LGBTQ role models everywhere from on television to the football field, and that really makes a difference, she added.
For Coming Out Day, GBPFLAG will work with multiple Genders and Sexualities Alliances (GSA) groups at middle schools across the state to help them “celebrate as a school community.”
If a loved one comes out on Oct. 11, Frias said family members need to remember that it’s that person’s own journey.
“They are on their journey and you are on your own journey as the family or caregiver. Those things don’t always align in terms of where you are, but being supportive and loving on your own journey is really critical,” she said. “To maintain that relationship, let your child know that you’re there for them no matter what.”
And if you’re struggling with coming out for any reason, GBPFLAG is there to help.
“If you’re struggling, reach out to a teacher or a friend, and if you don’t find someone supportive there, please reach out to us,” Frias said. “We will connect you with resources and young people in similar circumstances.”
Greater Boston PFLAG can be reached online at gbpflag.org or by phone at 781-891-5966