Being LGBTQ isn’t often thought of as a privilege. It is in fact, quite the opposite: there’s a reason that the straight white man trope begins with the word straight. However, I’d like to propose a nuance to the discussion on sexuality and privilege. Namely, that being able to be out and proud to everyone in your life is in and of itself a kind of privilege. Before you roll your eyes at yet another article on the topic of privilege, consider that discussing these issues might help us to be more compassionate to our fellow students at NYU; whether they’re wearing the rainbow flag or so deep in the closet that they found that winter jacket you lost last year.
Even now, with New York about to host a global pride celebration, World Pride, there are several reasons why someone might not want to be out. It might be financial: say, a student relying on their parents for tuition payments who fears that backlash from their coming out might jeopardize their ability to attend NYU. Take Eric Shin, an NYU Shanghai student who started an Indiegogo page after his parents cut him off after discovering his online presence in the LGBTQ community. When your options are being in the closet or racking up thousands of dollars of debt, it is understandable as to why some choose the former.
Or, the reasons could be more sociocultural; like a student who is concerned that their friends in their home country won’t be able to understand. Being gay is still criminalized in 72 countries, many of which students call home. Almost 3,000 NYU students come from India, which only very recently decriminalized gay sex. Even within the United States, aspects like race and class intersect with the LGBTQ experience. There’s evidence that suggests African American LGBTQ youths are less likely to come out than their white counterparts, due to fear of further ostracisation within an already marginalized community.
There are a whole host of different reasons that can leave an individual feeling like coming out just isn’t an option for them. This can be a source of immense pain and turmoil, which those who have had a relatively easy coming out period do not have to deal with in quite the same way.
At NYU, it’s easy to forget that this can be the case for many students. After all, we have a fantastic LGBTQ student center and great student support services. Moreover, we’re in New York City, which is quite frankly the gayest place I’ve ever been to; it’s the home of the Stonewall Inn Riots and has a vibrant LGBTQ community that I haven’t seen anywhere else. We’ve created a kind of bubble of inclusivity and pride around campus, which, while fabulous, is by no means representative of all our students’ stories. It’s easy to forget that this isn’t necessarily the case everywhere or to pressure students into coming out without taking their experiences into account. There are plenty of visibly out students at NYU, and the mentality in being out is thankfully a far cry from the small English university where I did my undergrad. However, the downside of this is that it can lead students, particularly straight students, to believe that being visibly out is an option for all. We can’t invalidate people’s reasons to stay in the closet just because it doesn’t fit in with our optimistic narrative.
Unfortunately, from toxic environments to homophobic family members, coming out can risk harm for many people. LGBTQ youth comprises 40 percent of homeless youth in New York City, often as a direct result of being cut off by homophobic family. The decision to come out should be left up to the individual, if and when they choose to do so. Visibility of queer identities is incredibly important and essential to progress. We would have few rights at all if it weren’t for the work of brave, fiercely out advocates throughout the years; particularly those who incited the Stonewall riots. But, it’s still far from easy. We need to steer the conversation around coming out to remind people that it’s okay. Even if you don’t want to or can’t be out right now, that’s okay. NYU needs to recognize that and support you.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Nov.5 print edition.
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Email Natasha Jokic at [email protected]