By Jason Menard
While having more people of prominence come out may help prevent tragedies like Jamie Hubley’s suicide, it’s going to take time and understanding to help people take those first brave steps out of the closet.
Recently Rick Mercer discussed why people in positions of power and influence should publicly come out of the closet. And while this would be a huge step forward in helping gay teens, I certainly can’t fault anyone who decides to keep their sexuality under wraps.
I know I’m a little late to the game on this one, but I really debated whether I should say anything. After all, I’m a heterosexual male, married for over a decade with two kids. What do I know about coming out of the closet? But I have a large number of gay friends and they’ve shared their hardships with me. And while my experiences are all secondary or tertiary, this also isn’t strictly a gay or straight issue. It’s something we all need to get behind, regardless of our sexual orientation — because no child should have to die for love.
The question some may ask is “Why does one need to come out in the first place? I don’t talk about my sexuality, why should someone who is gay?” The answer to that is simple: gay teens would kill to be straight; not too many straight people are killing themselves because of their sexuality.
Hence the point of Mercer’s rant. It’s not enough just to say, “It gets better” – although that’s a fantastic campaign. Kids need role models and if a gay teen can see that the chief of police, or the head of neurology, or the mayor is gay, then it builds up their confidence.
In addition to offering solace to the bullied, it may help change the minds of the bullies. Right now, most of the derisive comments have to do with effeminate behaviour, or other traditionally “queen”-esque traits. But if a marquee sports start, a top-flight action movie actor, or a few rough and rugged cops and firefighters came out, that attitude would change.
Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Coming out isn’t as easy as the euphemism sounds. It’s not simply turning the doorknob and marching out with one’s head held high. There are significant ramifications that some people face: being ostracized from family, homophobic friends and relations, and – in some cases – threats of violence.
If you’re in high school, forget it. Insecure young boys dealing with their own developing sense of masculinity love nothing more than asserting their wannabe Alpha Maledom by putting down others. I’m sad to say I’ve seen it in my own family, by people who should know better.
And the reason is always the same: it’s more important to be cool and fit in than it is to care for others. As long as there’s someone upon whom you can step, you’re not at the bottom of the social ladder.
I understand what Mercer is saying, when he states: “So if you’re gay and you’re in public life, I’m sorry, you don’t have to run around with a Pride flag and bore the hell out of everyone, but you can’t be invisible — not anymore.”
But you can’t out someone, or force someone to come out if they’re not ready. I have friends who were forced to leave their country for fear of being killed for their sexual orientation; I have friends who have had their families turn their backs on them. I can’t imagine the courage it takes to come out in an environment like that, but I can imagine that it takes some time to build that level of courage up.
Then you have those who abuse their pulpit. Disgusting cretins like Perez Hilton who pay lip service to anti-bullying and gay support messaging, all the while drawing penises into the mouths of suspected gay actors in an attempt to out them. That doesn’t help anyone and it makes Hilton no better than a common, knuckle-dragging gay basher.
Kudos to Rick for doing this the right way and practicing what he’s preaching. Rick is out, although there are a number of people who aren’t – or weren’t – aware of his sexual orientation. Some have criticized Rick’s rant because he did not self-identify as a gay man. He’s acknowledged those criticisms in subsequent interviews, saying he wasn’t aware some people didn’t know he was gay.
I had to laugh when, in one podcast, he said something to the effect of “I was marching in the Pride parade – what did you think I was doing there?” Because I’ve marched in the Pride parade in Montreal. And I did so in support of my friends and family members who still deal with discrimination, ignorance, and fear.
So while I wholeheartedly agree with the premise of Rick’s rant, I also know – as I’m sure he does too – that coming out is not an easy thing to do for anyone. Our responsibility, as a society, is to make sure we’re ready to support these brave men and women when the finally decide the time is right for them to come forward.
Then maybe, just maybe, when teens like Jamie Hubley see arms open for an embrace instead of fists clenched, they’ll actually believe that it does get better – and, gay or straight, we’ll all be there to welcome their true selves to the world.