SpeakOut - Respecting Those Still in the Closet

The outburst by NBA player Kobe Bryant (yelling an antigay slur at a referee) triggered a new discussion of homophobia in professional sports and pinpointed so well the reason that many LGBT people in sports feel a necessity to stay in the closet.
While Bryant represents a lack of judgment at the very least, or more likely homophobia, in sports, the same can be said for many professions, even those that have nondiscrimination policies and outreach to the LGBT community. There are many companies I know of that have excellent polices on LGBT issues, yet some of those companies’ officials are still in the closet. While the policies might be great, perhaps the atmosphere is not inviting?
To make matters worse, we who are out of the closet put a good deal of pressure on those who are in the closet to simply come out. Is that fair?
There’s an old adage from the gay-rights movement that goes “If everyone who was gay came out today there would be no reason for a gay-rights movement.” The reasoning being that we all have mothers, fathers, friends and coworkers and there would be no one at that point who didn’t have someone they knew who was gay. And knowing us is what the gay-rights movement is all about: education. Once we are known, any fear disappears.
But not all people feel comfortable coming out. The gay-rights struggle has made it easier for younger generations to come out, but not all. We still have families who are destroyed by this issue. Some children fear physical harm by friends and parents, others worry about losing their homes. Still others have concerns based on their religious views. Others work in homophobic atmospheres and fear the loss of a job or lack of promotion. There are a multitude of reasons people remain in the closet and we cannot expect to understand or even make it possible for them all to feel comfortable to be out.
Those of us who are out have a certain responsibility to those still in the closet: to respect their decision. After all, it is a personal decision and it is their life, not ours. Personally, I believe that if we make a comfortable and welcoming community, everyone will want to be a part of that. So let’s show a little compassion, for compassion is what is needed for those with fear.
Mark Segal, the publisher of Philadelphia Gay News, is the nation’s most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media. He can be reached at mark@epgn.com.

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