Keshet is a national organization that works for LGBTQ equality in Jewish life. The organization equips Jewish leaders with tools to build LGBTQ-affirming communities, creates spaces for queer Jewish teens to feel valued and develop their own leadership skills, and mobilizes the Jewish community to fight for LGBTQ justice. Keshet’s blog spotlights this work, as well as the voices of LGBTQ Jews, our families, and allies.
October 11th is National Coming Out Day! Held on the anniversary of the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1987, this holiday celebrates the bravery LGBTQ+ people have when coming out to their family, friends, and communities.
However, it can be scary to think about coming out to your whole Jewish community. It is important to remember that although this can feel overwhelming, you are not alone — other people have done this before you! That’s why we asked three members of our education team for the advice they would give to young queer Jews thinking about coming out.
We hope their words give you comfort and inspiration as you go about the coming out process.
Education and Training Manager, Chicago
It takes energy to hide. It is exhausting to cover up part(s) of yourself, silence your self-expression, and conceal important aspects of who you are. You deserve to spend your precious energy in ways that fill you up and make you whole, not in ways that keep you silent and small!
Coming out is hard for many people. It can be scary and painful at times. But to be seen–really seen–by others is such a relief. Being able to explore and express all parts of yourself is critical to self-acceptance.
I’m not saying that once you come out everything will be rainbows and smiles; you will likely learn some painful truths about the people and communities around you. But I think it’s better to know these truths, however ugly, rather than staying blissfully ignorant. Once you know who truly accepts you unconditionally and who doesn’t, you can move toward building your own chosen communities and families who will nurture you.
‘Coming out’ is a long journey and not a one-time event. As you navigate the challenges and opportunities of coming out, always remember that you are never alone.
National Director of Education and Training
I would tell a young person that there is no right/one way to come out nor should they come out if they feel like their safety is at stake. Their safety is the most important thing. Look for adults in your community that you trust, that put up visible markers of inclusion, like safe zone stickers, so that they can find people to talk to. Take your mental health seriously and find the strategies that work for you if and when things get hard. Read and look for media that you see yourself reflected in so you don’t feel so alone. Know that you are not alone and that there are people fighting for your future.
Associate Director of Education and Training
During the summer between my Junior and Senior year of college I was an intern at an LGBTQ youth organization where I worked with some incredibly talented LGBTQ high schoolers. Through this experience, I was able to witness the power of youth-led movements and also the fierceness of LGBTQ young people. Their clarity and conviction in their own identities helped me to begin my own coming out journey. I attended a very progressive college and had a lot of LGBTQ friends, but at the time I felt like they were “real” gay people and I was just trying to figure myself out. I was worried that they would think I was an imposter or not “queer enough” because I had crushes on boys and had never dated a woman before. That summer I took my first step in coming out to my community.
Back then Facebook had just been launched and it basically consisted of only personal profiles and interest groups, not the massive news feed or connection to other apps it is today. On your profile, you could list your sexual orientation, but it didn’t include the categories we have today. It simply asked if you were interested in men, women or both. I had previously only clicked the box next to “men” and I remember hesitating while looking at my Facebook profile that summer and then very quickly clicking the box next to “women” and then immediately logging out. Almost instantly I received a message from a friend asking if something exciting had changed this summer. I was so embarrassed and brushed it off and then quickly unchecked the box and never spoke about it again. Over two years later this same friend called me and came out to me sharing that he and another friend of ours were in a secret relationship for years while we were in college!
I remember thinking that if I had a conversation with him those many years ago instead of changing the subject we both would have been able to share our truth at the same time. While I wasn’t ready to share my feelings at that time, I feel very proud to share my journey now. The other piece of wisdom I gained from reflecting on this time is that there is no such thing as a “real” LGBTQ person. We’re all following our own thread and arrive at our own unique place at exactly the right time. And in case you’re wondering, after I wrote this post I made sure to update my Facebook profile to reflect my current relationship with my amazing girlfriend.