Lifestyle

Get Real On National Coming Out Day

October 7, 2021

There’s a new online resource available to help families better navigate the coming out process. Unconditional Love is a hub of information, tips and additional resources spearheaded by The Get Real Movement, and its launch coincides with National Coming Out Day, October 11, 2021. We chatted with Monica Henao, Get Real content manager and lead producer on Unconditional Love, and Jonas Stark, Get Real speaker and participant, about this important tool. —Noa Nichol

Hi Monica! Please tell us a bit about yourself to start.

I was born in Medellin, Colombia, and moved to Canada with my family when I was seven years old. I grew up in a fairly religious household, and topics surrounding the 2SLGBTQ+ community weren’t too common. Growing up I always felt like I wasn’t able to embrace all the different parts of myself—being gay, a person of faith, Colombian and also Canadian. I thought that I had to choose one or the other. But after coming out I found myself celebrating all of me and that’s a message I wanted to share with all youth: that we can celebrate every single part of ourselves because that’s what makes us our unique selves. Get Real has given me the confidence to talk about my story, and to open up conversations that I wouldn’t have thought I would be having with my family. Get Real has an incredible way of impacting people through the use of stories and it really has shown me that we are not alone in this world. There are other people, other families going through similar struggles, and the more we connect with one another, the more understanding and compassion we will have.

Tell us more about the goals and objectives of Get Real.

The Get Real Movement is a non-profit organization focused on combatting 2SLGBTQ+ discrimination, racism and bullying in schools, summer camps and workplaces. It began as a student project at Western University in 2011. As Orientation Week volunteer leaders, we saw excellent results combatting homophobic, transphobic and racist language and attitudes one-to-one with our first-year students; countless students changing their language within a matter of days, and countless others coming out to us and telling us they felt comfortable being themselves. This gave us the idea to translate this friendly, honest, diverse and personal-story-driven approach into a workshop for some of our old high schools … and the idea for Get Real was born! Our programming aims to break down prejudice, promote unity and foster compassion in our world through peer-to-peer workshops on 2SLGBTQ+ inclusion and anti-racism, community building and collaboration.

As National Coming Out day approaches on October 11, the Get REAL movement is launching Unconditional Love—an online educational resource to help families better navigate the coming out process. Can you please tell us more about this resource, what it will include and who can access it/where?

Unconditional Love is an online educational resource to help families navigate the coming out process through education, tips and additional resources. The webpage is a hub of videos featuring real stories and advice from five diverse families, including a downloadable PDF with our five key tips and additional resources for both families and youth. We wanted to help people answer questions like: what does support look like? What is my role in being an ally through the coming out process of my child, my sibling or my family member? Unconditional Love is available at unconditionallove.ca and is a free resource for all!

What are some of the issues/challenges people face in coming out?

This is a hard question to answer because the challenges are endless and varied depending on everyone’s situation. Some people are choosing between coming out and things like having a safe place to live, acceptance in their respective communities or preserving their relationships. During workshops, we frequently have students write to us about fear of being rejected by their friends, families, classmates and religions if they come out. As much progress as we’ve made, there is still so much work to be done.

What are some tips you can offer to help navigate the coming out process/journey?

Unconditional Love breaks down this complex topic into five key tips: prepare, listen, affirm, educate and support. We encourage families to start building inclusive households for all children, no matter what their gender identity or sexual orientation. This might mean educating yourself on how to talk about these topics or listening to your loved ones when they talk to you about them. Support looks so many different ways, from advocating for your loved one to affirming the validity of their identity; whatever support you can provide, just know it makes a huge difference to someone in the process of coming out. Check out the webpage for more details, tips and testimonials from families who have gone through it!

What would you like all Canadians to know about the process of coming out?

There are a few things! I want people in the process of coming out to know they are loved, valid and worthy. I want allies to know their support is incredibly important and even if they make a mistake every now and again or feel like they don’t know the “right” thing to say, they’re making a difference and please don’t stop. And lastly, I want those who might question why this is still a noteworthy topic to know coming out is a lifelong process. 2SLGBTQ+ people come out or are “outed” constantly throughout their lives and it can be scary, exhausting and liberating all at once. This will only stop being a noteworthy topic when it’s safe for everyone to be their authentic selves in every aspect of their lives and so it’s incredibly important we continue to educate and fight for that dream.

Hi Jonas! Please tell us a bit about yourself to start.

My name is Jonas Stark, I’m a Get Real speaker and student living in Toronto, Ontario! I’ve been working alongside this amazing program for a few years, and have really been able to solidify my role in the 2SLGBTQ+ community. As a young transgender person, I have been able to use my own experiences in schools and workplaces as a tool for learning. In turn, I see an astronomical need for programs such as these being implemented in the learning environment, and on a corporate level.

As National Coming Out day approaches on October 11, the Get REAL movement is launching Unconditional Love—an online educational resource to help families better navigate the coming out process. How are you involved in this launch/resource?

Through the launch of Unconditional Love, I was able to share some of the experiences I had in coming out. I brought my eldest brother, who also happens to be one of the closest people to me! In answering a series of questions, we were both able to speak to the value of coming out, and how to receive it in a loving way. Additionally, touching on how important our relationship is as brothers outside of just my identity as a trans guy. Being able to speak openly about my journey was a blessing in that many families/people struggle with how to be of support to someone going through something similar. I know I benefited from the stories of others when I was coming out, so I’m always happy to provide any insight I can!

What are some of the issues/challenges people face in coming out?

Coming out can pose as extremely intimidating for many reasons: the fear of not being accepted, change of dynamics within relationships, and lastly, losing those closest to you. Whether that be due to pre-disposed opinions, a lack of education, or simply just being ignorant. Either way, many people within the community go many years (and sometimes their whole lives) without coming out. With Unconditional Love, it was our hope that some of these factors would be alleviated in that coming out is a change for everyone.

What are some tips you can offer to help navigate the coming out process/journey?

Though coming out is definitely not universal, there are some tips I do have to share with people who are considering it. First thing is prefacing how much you love that person, and how much their support means to you in general. I found that expressing that first to my family offered a more open atmosphere for actually coming out. Secondly, being able to articulate that you are the same person regardless of the big news they’re hearing. Oftentimes people think that a person coming out means that there will be a large shift in dynamics (my brothers felt the same way). Lastly, ensuring that you are in a safe and confident spot. Safety when coming out is absolutely paramount. Making sure that you have a support system to talk to preemptively is important in the unfortunate case that it is not received well. For me, this looked like coming out to my closest friends and partner before telling immediate family!

What would you like all Canadians to know about the process of coming out?

The process of coming out is absolutely daunting for several reasons. Those reasons are exactly what inhibit people from being themselves, and enjoying life to the fullest. If we’re able to break down some of the prejudices within coming out, then we give everyone the opportunity to have the best quality of life. Additionally, when people are living authentically, I find that the people around them notice it, too. After I came out, all of my familial relationships became stronger and tighter-knit. It is a bonding moment, and solidifies that unconditional support and love that everyone deserves!

thegetrealmovement.com

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