"I came out. I survived. And so will you."
That's what TD Bank Employee Lynn Walkiewicz said when asked if she has a message for individuals on the fence about coming out, both at work and in their personal lives.
Each year, National Coming Out Day is observed on October 11, to commemorate the 1987 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. The initial idea was grounded in the feminist and gay liberation spirit of the personal being political--and that the most basic form of activism was coming out to family, friends and colleagues, and living life as an openly lesbian or gay person. It's expanded over the years to not only include voluntary self-disclosure of a lesbian, gay, or bisexual sexual orientation, but also transgender, genderqueer, or other non-mainstream gender identity.
"When I came out in my 30s," Lynn says, "my thinking was, 'I'm not going to hide who I am anymore." Once she made the decision to come out, she didn't do it in a formal way; it just kind of emerged as part of some everyday conversations. For example, when someone asked how her weekend was, she'd say things like, "My girlfriend and I did this and that." Making it a natural part of social interactions, Lynn feels, went a long way to normalize her identity. "When you can be out at work—and in your life—it rubs that raw edge of fear off the people that you're around," adding that it also puts those people at ease. "Many people would inadvertently show fear at first," Lynn says. "But after they got used to it, they began to look at me as a safe person to confide in." She believes her honesty may have indicated a level of comfort with herself and nonjudgmental view of the world that made people feel comfortable to open their own hearts. "That was a real benefit," Lynn says.
Asked why she feels it's important to have a day of awareness, Lynn again points to the idea of eliminating fear. "We all like to think we've progressed as a society, but there are a lot of people still afraid of people who are different." She adds that so many people talk about "queers" and "lesbians" and "trans," but it's easy to denigrate or fear those words when they can't attach a face to them. "If mine is the only face people have to go along with the words, I'm fine with that," Lynn says. However, she encourages others to take the plunge so that they can live full lives, adding they may be surprised by the amount of acceptance they get.
Ultimately, people realize they have a lot more in common than they thought. One of the things Lynn realized when she came out was that when you talk about your life, other people talk about theirs, and similarities emerge. "Suddenly, it doesn't matter that I'm married to a woman instead of a man. Because neither your husband nor my wife is picking their clothes up off the floor!"
Lynn Walkiewicz is a Digital Media Specialist at TD Bank, based in Auburn, Maine.
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