I plan to be on Fifth Avenue on June 29. I’ve only missed the Gay Pride March twice in the past four decades. And now we have so much to celebrate.
When I came out and moved to the East Village in 1975, NYC did not even have a gay rights bill, never mind same-sex marriage. There were no openly lesbian rock stars or TV hosts. I struggled to come out to my conservative Catholic parents, and it took years to find a career niche where I could feel comfortable.
Flash forward 40 years.
I naively thought it would be much easier for young men and women to come out today. Look at all the gay people in the media and at the legal rights we’ve gained. But I was wrong. Some of my students at the Borough of Manhattan Community College still find this passage difficult, especially if their parents are very religious. They describe their agony and isolation in their journals. Perhaps they fear they will be ostracized by their peers, although most students today seem quite tolerant.
As an older gay person, it shocks me that students think they must be in the closet to have a successful career, even though they know this choice will make them miserable. Then again, I must confess I’m not totally out myself. While my colleagues know I’m gay, I don’t announce it publicly to students. But I’d never deny it either.
If I run into a former student at a gay event, I make a point of saying hello. At work, I’m a member of the Safe Zone allies, who provide support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. I have a gay poster up in my office. I’m an out writer.
My queer students are starting a journey, but at a younger age than I did. When I respond to their writing, I encourage them to check out the gay club on campus and to speak with a counselor. Just opening up to someone provides enormous relief and guidance. Many homeless teens are LGBT — at least 40 percent of homeless youth are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender — so it’s not always wise for students living at home to tell their families.
But there is no reason to be isolated. It saddens me that coming out is still so fraught. LGBT youth have opportunities I could never have imagined when I was coming out, but many kids still need help making that liberating leap.
Kate Walter is a freelance writer living in the West Village.