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The Ally Dilemma on National Coming Out Day

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Today is National Coming Out Day. Celebrated on October 11 in the United States and around the world, this is a day that celebrates and raises awareness about LGBTQ movements, people and perspectives.

One of the things that has been interesting is that there has been an increased push for LGBTQ-affirming allies to also come out. In all honesty, the call for allies to come out on National Coming Out Day has always made me a little uncomfortable. I already have issues with the term "ally" because it is built on assumed power and privilege and allies are often given far too much face time. This coming out for allies raises the same concerns for me. Yes, for some people, especially for those serving in conservative religious communities, being vocal about affirming LGBTQ people is a huge deal, but I do not think that anything that could happen to an ally can compare to what LGBTQ folks have dealt with historically and currently when it comes to civil rights, violence and marginalization, etc. Coming out as ally does not bear the same weight as coming out as LGBTQ, so we must take care that we do not treat them as equal actions.

I simply have a hard time giving too many props to people for stating something today that they should be living already. I know that this is more than a little judgmental and not everyone is a fair-weather ally, but if this day is more about getting one more badge on your progressive cause sash, please do not bother. You see, the danger with making this day into one more "look at how progressive I am" opportunity is that the dominant culture, in this case, "straight" allies, can begin to co-opt a movement that must be voiced by those who have been marginalized. Yes, allies have a place in every movement of liberation, but it is NOT in the forefront, rather our best work can be done in our own communities where the marginalization has grown the deepest roots.

Our coming out is only meaningful if it transforms our lives.

So ... if you count yourself an ally and are thinking about coming out, please ask yourself a few questions before you do.  There will be no quiz, just some things to think about.

  • Will coming out as an ally be a natural expression of what you already believe and live?
  • Will coming out as an ally transform your life: voting, faith, attitudes, etc.?
  • Might coming out as an ally overshadow the impact and power of those for whom this could be a powerful day as they come out to friends and family?
  • Do you expect affirmation for coming out?
  • Are there other ways you might better or also offer support, encouragement and witness to LGBTQ friends, family and stranger?

By now there are some who might think that I am discouraging public LGBTQ affirmation, giving permission for people to remain silent and/or just plain encouraging apathy. Quite the contrary, I want every coming out of an ally to mean something deeper than this day alone. As allies our coming out must impact the ways in which each of us lives so that we are a meaningful part of the movement.

So come the hell on out you allies: be public, be affirming, be persistent ... but be sure it is not only for today.

This post originally appeared on www.reyes-chow.com.

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