Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Bahamas Needs A National Coming Out Day

October 11 will be observed as National Coming Out Day in countries all over the world including the United States, Israel, Switzerland, Germany, United Kingdom and Canada. Serving as mechanism to encourage and strengthen the gay, lesbian and transgender people in their identies, National Coming Out Day was first launched in 1988 and has become an international day of civil awareness focusing on the discussion of GLBT issues and empowering persons in the GLBT community and their allies.

Coming Out is often not even a consideration for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Bahamians. Like much of the English speaking Caribbean gays and lesbians face fierce and virulent homophobia and bigotry. The vast majority of religious communities actively exclude homosexuals and often forms of discrimination are entrenched in the legal code. For example, teachers can still face dismissal were they to publically come out of the closet as gay in the Bahamas. Even in what can be condidered the more liberal professions in the media, openly gay and lesbian Bahamians have faced discrimination and dismissal. This does not include the many instances of violence aimed at gays and lesbians, particularly in the vicinity of so-called "gay clubs" that all to often goes unreported to the authorities for fear of further victimization. In short, there are a host of good reasons why gay Bahamians often do not Come Out to their families, friends, co-workers or the public.

Yet, none of these intolerable pressures that the GLBT community in the Bahamas will ever ease unless more of us have courage to take some steps toward coming out. Bahamian families will never move toward tolerance and acceptance of their gay and lesbian sons and daughters if we don't ask them to make progress in that direction. Bahamian churches will never embrace a more liberal theology without the visible presence of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender worshipers in their pews. Each of us should consider what steps toward Coming Out we can reasonably take, perhaps sharing the truth of who we are with a close friend or family member is as much Coming Out as we can deal with for the moment. And perhaps observing National Coming Out Day can be a mechanism to help empower us all.

It is time for the non-straight community in the Bahamas to join with other progressives from around the world and acknowledge the powerful benefits that can be reaped from observing National Coming Out Day. In the Bahamas our own community and our Allies can come together to offer resources and support to LGBT individuals, couples, parents and children, as well as straight friends and relatives, to promote awareness of LGBT Bahamians in a country that so often does it's best to marginalize us.

Coming Out is a process as opposed an event. It is when an individual acknowledges the essential truth of his or her identity or orientation first to himself or herself, then to loved ones, perhaps to coworkers and sometimes, eventually, to the public.

While many there are almost always events planned that provide opportunities for discussion and awareness of GLBT issues as well as opportunites for disscussion of the personal journies of GLBT persons, a great part of the message of Coming Out Day is found the open display of GLBT symbols like the pink triangle, the pride flag and rainbows. I would focus a great deal of energy for the Bahamas National Coming Out Day on GLBT Allies. These family members and friends who are often the only safe harbour we can find in this homophobic culture. They are an important element of our community and a special effort empower them to come out of the closet as heterosexual supporters of GBLT persons creating "safe spaces" for GLBT persons in our hostile climate.

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