I have to be honest – 11th October hasn’t really been a thing for me. The date when I went public with my own experience of same-sex attraction was determined by the sermon series in my church (mid-November, I recall) and the talk plus interview that I gave! But if you put #nationalcomingoutday into Twitter today, you will discover that it’s a big day for many people. Indeed, it will be life-changing as they open up about their sexuality to the world. Like many days in the LGBT+ calendar, I suspect this day leaves Christians feeling torn.
There are reasons to be positive. National Coming Out Day was launched in 1988. It marked the anniversary of the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights on 11th October 1987, and, for many, the aim of the day is to combat homophobia. Here is how one website reflects on National Coming Out Day: ‘There is no question that homophobia and ignorance builds on silence so it is time to end that silence. Research has shown that if somebody KNOWS somebody who is part of the LGBT community, they are much less likely to be homophobic … “Coming out” basically means expressing your sexuality to the world in order to end the stigma and this is exactly what NCOD is about.’1 I think that is essentially true. Increasing levels of openness about sexuality have reduced, even if not eradicated, levels of homophobia within society and the Church. For anybody who believes that all human beings are made in the image of God and have inherent value as a result, that is something to be celebrated.
For anybody who believes that all human beings are made in the image of God and have inherent value as a result, that is something to be celebrated.
More than that – openness rather than secrecy is generally better for the person concerned. The same website suggests that coming out will ‘transform your life for the better’ and ‘make you happier.'2 I’m not sure that is guaranteed – but there are probably elements of truth in it. At Living Out, we want to encourage people to talk about sexuality. Carrying around struggles with sexuality or gender without anybody knowing about them can be hugely painful and crippling. You may not want to post it on Twitter, but my main advice to anybody experiencing same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria would be to talk to somebody you trust about it. There’s a helpful piece by Andrew on the subject of ‘coming out’ written on a previous National Coming Out Day. If NCOD leads to people no longer struggling in silence then that’s definitely worth celebrating.
And yet, as I read the short accounts thrown up by a Twitter search, they leave me desperately sad for people. Almost universally, they convey the message that their sexuality is the essence of who they are. I don’t blame them – all the messaging around NCOD asserts this. ‘National coming out day is a time for those in the LGBT community to finally be open about who they are to their friends, family and the world! ... Being proud of who you are and who you love will make you happier within yourself.’3
The problem is that this is inherently unstable. Even friends of mine who are happily married will acknowledge that there are ups and downs, times of joy and times of pain. It just doesn’t work to make sexuality and who we love the absolute basis for who we are – there are too many peaks and troughs. We need something more solid.
Even as I am pleased to see people able to be honest, I just want to say ‘But there’s something so much better…!’
That’s why it pains me to see people identifying themselves without any reference at all to the God who made them, the God who has come to earth to offer them fulness of life, and the God who is still willing to receive them. Even as I am pleased to see people able to be honest, I just want to say ‘But there’s something so much better…!’
And there’s someone better to have pride in. I don’t want LGBT people covered in shame – but I’ve always found our experience a curious reason for pride, given it isn’t something we have chosen or achieved. I’m much happier when I follow the Apostle and boast in belonging to Jesus, the most excellent of men who loved me and gave himself for me.
So, let’s be glad today that it is more possible to be open rather than hide in secrecy. But let’s also pray that more and more will say out loud – ‘I’m gay but the most important thing about me is that I am a follower of Jesus.’