Today is National Coming Out Day- Are you Creating a Safe Space, and Possibly Saving Lives?

Each year on October 11, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community celebrates (or commemorates?) National Coming Out Day.  It’s supposed to be a day to recognize those in our community struggling with coming to terms with their sexuality, and celebrate those who have taken steps in their life to live openly and honestly as a proud and out LGBT person.

This year’s commemoration is marred in sadness, as what seems like an epidemic of gay youth suicides have finally entered the public, mainstream consciousness and violence is rocking even those urban areas many consider to be “gay-friendly.”

I’ve been staring at this draft post for hours, not truly sure what to say.  There is SO much that needs to be said, and written, and understood– how do you tackle such an overwhelming problem that is seeping into every facet of our society in a blog post?  How do you convey the seriousness of the problem to those who don’t understand the power of their hate-filled rhetoric? I honestly believe that many of those who vocally denigrate gay people and their relationships (like the Republican nominee for New York governor, Carl Paladino) fail to take the time to stop and think about the consequences of their words and actions– they fail to realize how a young, gay youth might react when told their love isn’t as “real” as their straight counterparts, or that their life is not as “valid” as another life.

So instead of tackling the insurmountable, I instead want to focus on how the internets and the social web has completely changed the landscape for young, LGBT and gay youth. Just ten years ago there was no facebook, myspace, or twitter; just like tens year before that there was no AOL or wide-spread internet use in the home. I came of age during the AOL/Compuserve era– the glorious 90s of dial-up internet and AOL chat rooms. Because of this, I feel damn lucky– I had the opportunity to log into a chat room and find hundreds of other people just like me.  Whether they lived in the same city or shared similar interests– I found people, young and old, that were gay.  I could relate, and in an instant realized that who I was isn’t an abomination, that I wasn’t a freak, and that others were just like me. I can only imagine how hard it was for LGBT and questioning youth to come to terms with their sexuality before the internet connected us all, and before they could find a community to call their own from the safety and privacy of their own house.

Today, with the widespread adoption of social media and social networking, that intimate connection only continues to grow in size, scope, and reach.  Gay and questioning youth can connect on myspace, find each other on twitter, make a facebook group, and find thousands of websites with information and res0urces on coming out and sexuality.  Not only is there more opportunity for connectedness, but many are also doing really interesting things in this space.  Take, for instance, super-gay Dan Savage’s recent “It Gets Better” project, which has attracted mainstream attention and gotten dozens of celebrities and regular-folk alike sharing messages of hope and strength (like Glee’s Chris Colfer above, Tim Gunn, and countless others).

The social web is providing a platform that can truly save lives.  My hope is that when a gay kid is feeling like there is no hope, and that there is no light at the end of the tunnel, they will stumble upon one of these videos, and realize that it DOES get better.  But today should also provide everyone an opportunity to look at their own facebook profile, and twitter feed, and think– what message am I sending to LGBT and gay youth?  Do your connections either comment or respond with deragatory comments like “This is so0ooo gay” when you know they mean they think it’s stupid.  Have your connections ever called you a f*g to put you down?  Well, one of your friends or followers might just be an LGBT youth, who sees that and sees your inaction to the comment.

We need our STRAIGHT allies to COME OUT on this National Coming Out Day.  Without allies, without your love and support, violence and bullying will continue against those vulnerable in our society.  So come out!  Call out your own friends using “gay” as a derogatory term– Call out your friends that use the “f” word without really understanding how hurtful that term can be towards LGBT youth.

With great power comes great responsibility, and the social web and networks have given us all tremendous power to connect.  But it’s incumbent upon all of us to create and maintain a space that is safe, and welcoming, to everyone, even the LGBT youth among us all.

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