Since 2018, every October 11th, Stratford Hall participates in National Coming Out Day (NCOD). NCOD was started in 1988 in the USA and is now observed worldwide. It was created to raise awareness of the existence and rights of the LGBTQ2S+ community. Psychologist, Dr. Robert H. Eichberg, one of the founding members of the NCOD, said in 1993, “Most people think they don’t know anyone gay or lesbian, and in fact everybody does. It is imperative that we come out and let people know who we are and disabuse them of their fears and stereotypes.” In more recent times NCOD has grown to be more of a celebration acknowledging the many LGBTQ2S+ members within our communities.
While ‘coming out’ has become safer and easier for many, this is not the case for everyone. There is an element of resilience in LGBTQ2S+ youth who come out, especially since the benefits such as increased self-esteem and mental health are gained at a considerable risk (Kosciw et. al, 2014). Preston Mitchum, a black queer writer, also acknowledges that this risk can be greater for LGBTQ2S+ individuals who are a part of multiple marginalized communities. Mitchum also suggests that coming out exposes parts of someone’s identity that were previously hidden and can lead to discrimination in the workplace, family exile, violence, and criminalization. For many youth, school might be one of the first places that they feel safe to come out, however this always depends on context.
For example, a Grade 6 teacher here at Stratford Hall, Skipper, recalls his own experiences in school:
When I was growing up, I did not know of National Coming Out Day. I also didn’t know anybody who identified as LGBTQ2S+. The only information that was provided to me was embedded in stories of stereotypes, shame, and myths. With no support from my school and family, I remained ‘in the closet’ until I graduated from high school. My coming out story was not as challenging as many other individuals. Although I gained allies throughout my University years, I never felt safe to be my true self. When I chose the profession of becoming a teacher, I vowed to be out and open with students. I wanted them to know that I wasn’t a stereotype. That being gay was only one part of my identity. Although I may have been ready to take this stance, it wasn’t until I was at Stratford Hall that I truly felt that I could be me – seven years after becoming a teacher.
In 2018, I came out to the Senior school on National Coming out Day. I will never forget the silent energy that emanated from their fixed eyes. By telling my story, I wanted all students to know that I was their ally and that I was an example of someone who is gay. I wanted to give hope to the LGBTQ2S+ students that they didn’t have to wait to graduate to live their life. I wanted to give all students the knowledge that discrimination would not be tolerated and that by learning about LGBTQ2S+ individuals, that they were also making our school a safer place for all students no matter how they identified. As I returned to my desk, I was greeted by an email from a student that will always bring a smile to my face:
“Mr. Skipper, I will always be your ally.”
For Stratford Hall’s first National Coming Out Day, we gave staff an opportunity to create posters showing that they too were allies for the LGBTQ2S+ community. The following year, we adjusted our approach to take the onus off of those who were in the closet or questioning their identity and put it onto the community that supported them. We created invitations that ‘invited in’ all LGBTQ2S+ members of our community.
Within the Junior School, National Coming Out Day also included a read-aloud and storytelling series to spark conversations about who we are and supporting the people that we love. Our own ‘inviting in’ poster display also featured Bluey, a loveable puppet who demonstrates what it means to be a curious and open-minded ally.
National Coming Out Day goes beyond just our students and teachers. The Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) Committee is looking forward to providing opportunities for our community to show that you too are allies in supporting the LGBTQ2S+ individuals who choose to make Stratford Hall their school.
You might be wondering, what can I do from home?