This message to come out, come out, come out, come out -- I don't know. I don't know at all, when the end result is physical violence and fundraising. Both crime and punishment and my understanding of either elude me, but throwing money at the problem may be the wrong response. It's the perpetrator (his family), not the victim (a 19-year-old gay man and, by extension, all gay men), who should be paying for his care. And of equal offense, money may incentivize young people to do this more often: come out too soon in hopes of raising cash to get out of Dodge. That's what I'd be thinking if I were 13.
In the end what we risk is our lives, to violence. Now cue that videotape of Daniel Ashley Pierce, age 19, from Georgia.
I think gay men experience trauma when they watch this stuff. The result is that we reach to our wallets and pay for it, then proudly pat ourselves on the back for doing something. We pay it away like a tax for living in a society that hates us. I think it takes the hurt away momentarily, selfishly, but it does not erase the problem of homophobia. So put your money away for a moment and ask yourself, "Do I really think money can buy this particular brand of bias or pain away? Did money buy it away for me?" No, but something else did for me: growing up.
These days I would rather the message be "Wait until you are somewhere safe." That is, and always will be, my policy. Do not come out until you are out... out of that house! Out from under the oppressive roof of "The Haters" -- last house on the right, just past the steeple and that blood-red public-school building. Wait until you are somewhere safe, because I would rather you be safe than out. I would rather you be out in the world, not alone on the streets. I would rather you stay in, then come out and find yourself in jail for loitering. Most importantly, I would rather you come out and not get hurt when you do celebrate the moment, even if you have found the love of your life at 16. Stay in until you can be safely out.
Message: Call the Family Acceptance Project or the Trevor Project first, not after. If you need to, bring a friend or another family member who is on your side, someone who can help protect you. Vet them first, and then get a second opinion, because barbaric folks raise children all across the U.S. of goddam A. every LGBTQ day. Think of these traumas as everywhere and worse -- the same way these parents and guardians think of homosexuality -- and multiply that by a large number: 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. That will help you to calculate the amount of pain inflicted on gay youth every day.
Come out -- but if there's a lightning storm going on, stay inside. Stay there until you can come out safely. Violence may not always end up with the victim walking off in one piece and wearing a purse full of gold. Why? We haven't cured any of this bigotry with viral videos. And sometimes it gets worse.
Stays out of that storm until the sun shines and that rainbow with the pot of gold comes around like a balmy breeze off a gay cruise ship. This isn't to say Daniel doesn't deserve this moment for going through what he experienced and continues to experience; I just ask that we look a little deeper and start thinking about other things we can do to foster safer comings out.
As adults, we can do a lot better than reach for the ATM card: We can support telling a young person, "Stay right where you are until help arrives," because help is available, and it does not go against the prevailing winds for everyone to come out. By adding the word "safely," one only improves the quality of the experience, protecting our community one body, one mind at a time. To do so, we must promote in this moment: Come out only when it is safe.