LGBTQ+ Coming out in times of pandemic

by Rapporteur Eanna

COVID-19 has changed everyone’s lives over the past 14 months.

Many have been impacted by the health effects of the virus. Others have seen their job situation affected.

Many more, still, have felt the pandemic’s toll on their mental health. Lockdowns have forced people into isolation from their family and friends. In solitude, we can’t see anyone — and no one sees us, either. Lives have become static.

Lockdown means a different set of challenges for anyone thinking of coming out as a different gender identity or sexuality.

Without the freedom we once took for granted, many young people in Europe now find themselves surrounded by people who aren’t aware of their sexuality. Some may be living in close quarters with an unaccepting family unit.

It’s important to remind these young people that they’re not alone. At an online session hosted by Euro Youth Mental Health on May 13, LGBTQ+ members shared their advice to anyone who now finds themselves stuck at home, unsure of whether to come out or not.

‘Find your support group’

Anna, 21, is a LGBTQ+ Euro Youth Mental Health volunteer activist and in her third year of study in The Netherlands.

Young people can use this time to slowly help figure out who they are, she said.

“Coming out online was easier for me and more like a first step to coming out in real life,” she said. “I had the courage to come out because of the positive stories I read online.”

Her advice for young people is to take it slowly – and be choosy about who you come out to.

“Sometimes it might be better to hold off on coming out, so you have the necessary social support around you to catch you if you fall. Safety is the most important consideration,” she said.

“I was luckily very well received by my friends when I came out. I grew up in a friend group where one came out after the other. It was very comforting. When I graduated, I lived the world outside that friend group and found it was really different – not as accepting as the people I grew up with,” she said.

This experience is common for members of the LGBTQ+ community, who say that it will take a little bit of time to feel comfortable in your true identity.

“Speaking to another person is a very important thing to do – and it’s more important to do so in person rather than online, I think,” Anna added.

‘Take it at your own pace’

Maisie Emily, from Manchester, is the communication coordinator of Schools OUT UK, which creates inclusive lesson plans for teachers.

“We like to push the idea that Europe is more liberal and welcoming [than other places],” she said.

But any progress made can never be taken for granted, she added, and everyone has to remain mindful of the challenges people face in coming out. 

“People have to find their own way – for some it might be easy to come out, but other people are facing horrendous situations at home and from their governments,” she said.

Maisie’s advice: take your time.

“Coming out is not a one-time thing. Take it at your own pace. Don’t feel like you have to rush. Be comfortable and look to someone you know you can trust,” she said.

“You don’t become gay, for example, when you come out. You’ve always been that way. It doesn’t make you any less LGBTQ+ to take it at your own pace,” she said.

Maisie encourages young people to find information and support online.

“Find safety where you can, first of all. Use private browsing. Use locks on your phone. You can have a safe button on certain sites, which will bring up an innocuous page with a click if someone enters your room,” she said.

Maisie calls on organisations and groups to be mindful of LGBTQ+ spaces after the pandemic.

“It can’t just be bars, because some people don’t want to drink. We have to allow people to dip in and out. You might not want to go to a [physical] forum, say, but go on a zoom call anonymously. If someone can’t get out of the house, you have to bring the event to them,” she said.

‘It’s a journey’

Coming out wasn’t easy for Nathan Nalla, the founder of Be The Riot, which helps companies create inclusive culture through the facilitation of learning workshops. Workshops aim to address issues relating to LGBTQ+ inclusion as well as race, disability, gender and social mobility inclusion.

“I remember my mum being in tears – I was in tears too – when I came out. The first reaction of my family wasn’t what I wanted. [My mum] had fears around it, and it took time for her to adjust and begin to accept me in her mind. I was 23 [by the way], I was already into my adult life.”

“It was a heavy emotional burden. I experienced rejection from friends and family who really didn’t get it at first. I had feelings of depression; there were times I had suicidal thoughts.”

He encourages young people to take caution, depending on their circumstances. “It’s definitely a journey. ‘Just come out and embrace who you are’ – I would be careful with this message, which doesn’t work for everybody,” he said.

Moving to a bigger city – in this case, London – was a breakthrough, Nathan says. “I’m originally from Birmingham and I remember walking down the street without seeing people who would visibly identify as being queer. There was a feeling that you don’t want to stand out too much,” he said.

Young people lack “autonomy in spaces they occupy”, Nathan said. But one big difference he sees now, compared to when he was younger, is the availability of help and advice online, and the gains in positive representation for LGBTQ+ members in TV and cinema.  “I think online forums and helplines can be really valuable. Switchboard, Mermaids, Stonewall and Galop are some of the places that can provide support,” he said. 

Echoing Maisie and Anna, his main advice is to take things at a steady pace. “Things are very difficult right now. But you’re not alone.”

Helplines & resources for LGBTQ+:

/!/ Find country per country list of support organisations at: https://www.ilga-europe.org/who-we-are/members

Published by Euro Youth Mental Health

I'm a champion for youth mental health - Co-Director of Euro Youth Mental Health - Youth Mental Health First Aid Instructor - Mental Health Participation Expert - Facilitator & Podcaster - Youth Wellbeing giver.

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