Uplifting Our Journeys by “Coming Out”

By Carlos Padilla & Laura M. Bohórquez

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In the LGBTQ movement, “coming out” is used to humanize the topic of sexuality and gender diversity, and social and structural barriers that exist in the communities we represent. The origins of “coming out” date back to the 1800’s when Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, a German gay rights advocate used self-disclosure as a means of emancipation and address the challenge of invisibility to shift the public opinion to a more accepting one.

“Coming out” has become an empowering experience for individuals, highlighting their resilience and humanity. Every time someone comes out, it helps bring attention to the issues impacting LGBTQ communities.

In my experience, the impact of coming out brings together the immigrant youth movement and LGBTQ movement.

I grew up undocumented in a rural town in Washington state, where speaking about my immigration status was frightening.. For many of us, being public about our immigration status felt like Immigration Customs Enforcement would show up at our door to deport us, separating us from our family. In 2006, I learned the importance of coming out when I first met a group of undocumented youth hosting a “Coming Out of the Shadows” forum in my community where they intentionally and publicly shared their immigration status chanting “undocumented, unafraid, and unapologetic.”

The first time I heard someone come out in public I felt chills down my spine. I am undocumented but I was too scared to let anyone know and I could not see myself coming out publically. Years later, I left Washington State and I still didn’t want anyone to know about my immigration status for fear of being outcasted and deported, but met other immigrant youth like me that gave me the last push to come out as undocumented and unafraid.

When we first moved to the United States, my parents worked day and night. My mom worked in a sweatshop in East Los Angeles, and my dad worked as a dishwasher in Seattle. These circumstances made it difficult growing up to communicate with my family about the challenges I was facing coming to terms with my sexuality. I was more worried about my parents’ safety and well-being.

I remained in the closet for so long hoping to not be a burden to my family. I did not want them to worry about me, or put us at risk of deportation. I censored my mannerisms and my expression in order to survive everyday. This all changed after I turned 15; my family suffered a terrible loss that led my mom to leave for Mexico unable to return. All this led me to reflect on my life: this whole time I was nearly surviving and not living. I needed to find a way to come out, to feel free.

The LGBTQ and the immigrant rights movement provide these spaces for empowerment. Both movements continue to use “Coming Out” to highlight our stories and humanity. The Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project (QUIP) is currently using this tacting in mass scale during our #NoMoreClosets campaign, an effort led by LGBTQ immigrant youth to collect and uplift the stories of LGBTQ immigrants through social media and the first national survey specifically focused on LGBTQ immigrants. There is currently very little data to tell the story of the people that live at the intersection of both the immigrant experience and the LGBTQ experience. United We Dream believes that by documenting this through the #NoMoreClosets survey, we can adopt an intersectional analysis to build power for the rights of both communities.

The Dream Educational Empowerment Program (DEEP) has uses coming out to provide the opportunity for undocumented students to share their identity with pride and to ask the educators and advocates to be public about their support of them. We ask educators and advocates to come out publically and navigate through their own fears, to have you say, “I am an unafraid educator with and for undocumented students” and use the hashtag #educatorsOUT.

Coming out for our communities is an ongoing journey, not a once in a lifetime occurrence. We share our identity and humanity when we come out, and inviting new people into our lives. Coming out can become easier or harder, depending on the content, context, person, support system and place in our lives. I remember graduating from college confidently saying that I was undocumented and unafraid, and I also remember that same courage disappear when I moved away from my support system at home in order to pursue my graduate career. As a public advocate, we must come out in support of our communities, following the steps of the many. freedom riders that came before us who also faced their fears and in some cases violence. This is a movement, we have to collectively come out for justice… Join us!