Due to the fear from violence and rejection, LGBTI persons often hide their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression, which brings along many other problems. Hiding, being constantly on alert, disrupted social contacts - lead to increased loneliness and stress. The research done by European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights
(2019.) showed that 4% of young people in Croatian schools are open about their LGBTI identity, while 33% are somewhat open/hiding, and 63% are entirely hiding their sexual identity and/or gender identity.
Cognition and revelation of one's own sexual orientation and/or gender identity (to oneself and others) is called coming out. It is a very complex lifelong process in which a person goes through their own identification and decides when and how to reveal their identity to others. Coming out is an act that heterosexual people do not even think about - they 'out' themselves in all everyday situations, while LGBTI people have to think far more about the possible negative social consequences of their coming out. Being openly lesbian, gay, or transgender person often entails greater exposure to social rejection, criticism, violence, and other serious problems. In the adolescence age, young person's decision on whether to be 'out' is particularly difficult and sensitive, especially because of the pronounced need for security, support, and sense of belonging to peer groups. Due to "non-compliance" with social norms, many LGBTI young people are forced to lead a life in which they do not enjoy all of their rights. Not only do they fear that they will be labelled as abnormal, disturbed or perverted by their environment, but also many young people fear the negative reactions of their families. In an open letter addressed to her parents a girl describes the problems she is facing: I hide from the moment I wake up in the morning, I don’t tell you about my dreams even though you ask me, I don’t tell you who I go out with, where I go or whether I have anyone in my life for whom my heart leaps and my whole body trembles… I fear that you will act like my best friend's parents who kicked him out of the house when they found out. I fear that you won't love me anymore, that you'll kick me out of the house or, as the parents of a girl I know, ban me from leaving the house and beat me up. LGBTI young people, hiding their identity, experience stress during daily, usual situations and face various psychological and emotional problems. For example, when crushes, relationships, and similar adolescent topics are discussed in a group of peers, a young gay or a young lesbian is unlikely to take part in the conversation or will lie about those topics. Although hiding the identity provides some sense of safety to LGBTI youngsters, it also prevents them from growing in a healthy manner.
Young LGBTI persons do not frequently turn to teachers and school professionals for help, fearing further condemnation or lack of understanding. However, precisely the decision to come out is an important topic that LGBTI youngsters tell their teacher or psychologist about. Therefore, these professionals should be sufficiently sensitized to understand that coming out means opening up and talking about one's own identity, not talking about one's sexual preferences or "the stage a student goes through" (as a school psychologist said to a gay man, according to his personal story). In the coming out process, appropriate support and feedback which a person receives is extremely important. It is crucial that the teacher/school professional establishes a trust-based relationship with a LGBTI young person and is aware of their own prejudices or assumptions about the students’ sexual orientation or gender identity/expression. It is necessary to create a safe environment in which students will be able to talk about their feelings and thoughts, and it is important for the educational staff to be aware of the importance of coming out, to make this experience to be as positive as it gets for the youngsters (Guide for teachers and school professionals, LORI, 2016).
Coming out is a process in which a person gains self-confidence and feels safe enough and ready to share one important part of themselves with their environment. Talking about one's own identity is a liberating process because it allows people to live to the fullest, without pretending. Openness towards others brings relief, contributes to a sense of self-confidence, and ensures a fuller life. Outing is a crucial step that requires courage, while it contributes to making us feel better in our skin, and we develop stronger relationships with others. When it comes to the school environment, it is necessary to create a vibe in which young LGBTI people will feel accepted and safe in order to develop their overall identity with the support of school colleagues, teachers and professional associates.
LET'S MAKE EDUCATION SAFE AND INCLUSIVE!
The text was created as part of the #LORIIDAHOBIT2020 campaign with the aim of informing the public about the situation of LGBTI youth in the Croatian educational system and the importance of education on LGBTIQ topics in schools. The campaign includes a series of video testimonies of LGBTI youngsters talking about their experiences during formal education, and informative articles on issues of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in education. The campaign is created by second-year graduate students of pedagogy at FFRi, Antonela Pribanić and Tea Staničić, as part of their practice, in collaboration with mentors from the NGO LORI.