Outed As Allies

This year’s Coming Out Day was an inspiration to us all

This year’s National Coming Out Day was particularly memorable on Harvard’s campus not merely as an occasion to “come out” as LGBTQ-identified, but also as a straight ally. Notable among outed allies were members of Harvard’s varsity wrestling team, who stood outside the Malkin Athletic Center sporting “Proud Ally” pins and t-shirts that read “Some Dudes Marry Dudes. Get Over It.” The QSA’s unique approach to Coming Out Day this year empowered all students at the College to express their support for queer-identified individuals, and we applaud the efforts of Harvard’s QSA to lend agency to queer and allied students alike in the global struggle for equality with respect to sexual orientation and gender identity.

To come out as an ally is to uphold the integrity and inalienable rights of queer-identified individuals. In actively affirming their solidarity with LGBTQ students, members of the Harvard wrestling team—among others—signaled not only to members of the Harvard community, but also to the rest of world, that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is unacceptable. This is one of the most potent tactics that we can use to combat discrimination against sexual minorities at home and abroad. The QSA has rightfully noted that coming out as an ally can be just as powerful and meaningful as coming out in the traditional sense.

Let us not forget that just two decades ago, Harvard was not nearly the queer-friendly place that it is today. Timothy P. McCarthy ’93, now director of the Sexuality, Gender, and Human Rights program at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, noted that during his own undergraduate days, the Harvard community stigmatized BGLTQ-identified individuals. And even today, although Harvard, compared to much of the rest of the U.S., is generally a safe and accepting space for queer-identified students, Harvard, too, is often plagued by homophobia. Although we have come a long way since McCarthy’s time as an undergraduate, it is clear that we still have a ways to go. As a recent piece on this page concluded: “it is our duty to speak out against every form of bigotry that we witness,” and we applaud the wrestling team for effectively having done just that.

Though we are generally very supportive of this year’s focus on coming out as an ally, there are nonetheless some notable caveats. Coming out as an ally is, for many, a significant and difficult act, but we are hesitant to equate the act of coming out as an ally with coming out as LGBTQ. Likening coming out as an ally to coming out as LGBTQ may draw an inappropriate comparison for some: Coming out as an ally in a public, fun-loving manner can trivialize and even inadvertently mock what is often, for queer individuals, a very emotional, personal, and traumatic experience. Additionally, it is important to note that coming out as an ally necessarily distinguishes one as non-LGBTQ-identified, and we question the value of such partitions.

Furthermore, although public displays of support for queer-identified individuals are tremendously important in the U.S. as a whole, we should keep in mind that, at places like Harvard, everyone should be considered an ally already. The phrase “coming out” carries the implication that, beforehand, an individual is presumed not to bear the characteristic that he or she “outs,” and we worry that this implication can send the message that being an ally to queer-identified students at Harvard is noteworthy rather than commonplace and praiseworthy rather than expected. This brings to mind the “LGBTQ safe space” demarcations often found on the doors of Harvard proctors and tutors. While we recognize the value of such public declarations, we worry that too many of them might contribute to an understanding that only these spaces are safe. After all, shouldn’t it be understood that our entire campus is a safe space?

Despite some of the thorny questions introduced by the concept of coming out as an ally, this year’s Coming Out Day theme was very much in keeping with the call for acceptance and equality in Harvard and in the world at large. The Harvard College Queer Students and Allies, in organizing a day designed to unite all Harvard students, has truly lived up to its name: if sexual orientation and gender identity should not preclude any individual from the same rights and privileges as any other, then neither should they preclude one from claiming an equal share in the struggle for social justice.

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