Coming Out vs. Outing
LGBT identified South Florida high school student
Students who identify as LGBT must decide whether, when and how to reveal to others their sexual orientation or gender identity. This is often a delicate and emotional process.
In our society, most people are presumed heterosexual, so there is no need for a heterosexual person to make a statement to others that discloses his or her sexual orientation. Similarly, most people feel their gender is aligned with their biological sex, so they typically have no need to disclose their gender identity.
Why might a person desire to come out? To come out, either in a group, in a public setting or in casual conversation with others about the day to day life happenings such as how you spent your weekend, who you enjoyed time with, etc. can be a simple statement but-a difficult and emotional process for an LGBT student to go through, which is why it is very important for a student to have support.
One positive aspect of coming out is not having to hide who you are anymore. It takes great energy to ‘hide’ an important aspect of who one is, and sharing it with others allows for a release of what sometimes is a ‘secret’ because of the fear of stigma by others.
In contrast to coming out, when a person chooses to disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity, ‘outing” occurs when someone else tells others that a particular person is LGBT without that person’s permission. Even though we often don’t know what someone’s beliefs are or reactions might be, outing someone may have large repercussions for students. It is an unfortunate reality that LGBT students commonly experience parental rejection because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Studies have shown that approximately one third of LGBTQ youth are victims of physical violence by a family member after the teen “comes out” or their sexual orientation is disclosed. Students have had their emotional and physical safety jeopardized when school staff “outed” them to other students and even family members.
It is important to note that it is against the law to disclose a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity to parents or anyone else without the student’s permission, absent a compelling reason. Besides these very limited exceptions, it is never appropriate to divulge the sexual orientation or gender identity to others. Sterling v. Borough of Minersville, 232 F.3d. 190, 196 n.4 (3d Cir. 2000); C.N. v. Wolf, 410 F. Supp. 2d 894, 903 (C.D. Cal. 2005).
The constitutional right to privacy also protects students’ right to control how personal information about them is released. Whalen v. Roe, 429 U.S. 589, 566-600 (1977); Bloch v. Ribar, 156 F.3d 673, 685 (6th Cir. 1998). Even if a person is open about their sexual orientation or gender identity at school, they still have the right to control who knows about their LGBT status. C.N. v. Wolf, 410 F. Supp. 2d 894, 903 (C.D. Cal. 2005). Therefore, just as teachers and school administrators can not discourage a student from being “out” at school, they also can not encourage (or even force) a student to be “out” at home. It is up to the student and the student alone, to decide where and when to be open about her or his LGBTQ status.
When a Student Comes Out
When a student comes out to you and tells you they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, your initial response is important. The student has likely spent time in advance thinking about whether or not to tell you, and when and how to tell you. The following are some tips to help you support them. Click here.