October 11 is National Coming Out Day, inspired by a single march of 500,000 people on October 11, 1987. This day is meant to raise awareness for individuals within the LGBTQ+ community and to be a national celebration of coming out. I know that there are many in this Department struggling with living their authentic lives based on fear and the inner struggle for acceptance. As a gay Latino man in the Department, I offer the following challenges some people face regarding their sexual identity and suggestions for navigating them.
Challenge: accepting yourself for who you are. When considering the possibility of being gay, there may be internal conflict related to what it means to be gay. The messages many people get are that gay people go to hell, they are rejected by family and society, it is illegal and being gay could get you killed. My journey involved trying to reject the belief that I may be gay, which caused internal pain and suffering, and then learning to love and accept myself as a gay man (which continues to be a lifelong process). Support groups, exposure to the LGBTQ+ community and therapy are some ways that could help you navigate this challenge.
Challenge: deciding to come out to your family (whether the one at home or the one at work). This decision can have many emotions wrapped up in it, such as fear of rejection, disappointing others or not wanting to burden others. As is true for many, I dealt with my fears and worries by staying away from my family to hide my identity as a gay man. I came to see that my fear of being rejected was leading me to isolate myself from and inadvertently reject my family. While there is no way to predict the future and sharing this truth is a risk, trust in your relationships and that you are a good judge of character. Focusing on the inherent value of courage and unity within this Department could also help. For me, not being authentic with those I cared about was no longer acceptable, and I decided to tell them despite the belief that I could lose them.
Challenge: finding the courage to go through with the decision. We all find courage and strength in different places. Maybe it is the support system of others in the LGBTQ+ community, maybe it is connections you’ve made on social media, maybe it is through faith and spirituality, maybe it is through therapy or maybe it is something entirely different. While the source of courage and strength is unique to us all, we share the common challenge of needing to find it in order to take the risk of sharing our truth.
Challenge: figuring out when, where and how to share your truth. Again, there is no one answer that I can offer. This is unique to everyone. The important thing is that you lean into the strength and courage you bring to the interaction to help get you through it. When I shared my truth with my mom, I asked God to help me so I could feel like a full person with those who I love the most. For those of you uncertain of what to say, let me assure you that there is no “right” script. I am, however, happy to share my words in case they might help someone find there’s. I said:
“Mom, I have something to tell you. Remember when you told me the story of my uncle’s desire to be taller? That he used to put metal rods on his legs hoping that they would make him taller, but no matter what he did, it did not work? I have something that I have been wanting to change that I couldn’t and I can’t. I am not attracted to women, I am attracted to men.”
Challenge: allowing others to have their process. While this does not always feel good, it is important to understand that sharing this information can be a lot for someone to take in, especially if they, too, have been holding on to some of the negative messages mentioned earlier. Your words might be met with tears, worries or attempts to deny what is being said. It is normal for people to need time to process new information and even to grieve (because while they are gaining a whole person in your sharing with them who you are, they are losing the person they thought they knew). I was blessed in that, after a couple weeks, my mom told me that she loves me no matter what. Coming out to my LASD co-workers, both sworn and civilian, allowed me the opportunity to further accept myself, as they have been explicit in their advocacy and encouragement for me to, unapologetically, be myself. Since we never know for sure how things will play out, it is essential to be prepared and to have support, so you have what you need to get through it no matter what it looks like.
Challenge: suffering in silence without the support needed to do anything differently. It is important to recognize that there are many people suffering quietly, especially those who are transgender and have even more challenges to manage problematic societal forces. The unfortunate truth is that suicide rates are high in the LGBT community. But having a sense of belonging and acceptance is a strong force against emotional distress and possible death from suicide.
If you are struggling with issues associated with sexual orientation/gender identification, consider reaching out to Psychological Services Bureau (PSB) at (213) 738-3500 for support and guidance — it’s free and confidential. Make sure that you build your support network and be intentional in surrounding yourself with loved ones as you may encounter emotional hardships from individuals who are not educated/informed. You are not alone, and I hope your coming-out story is filled with care and embrace.