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"Powerful" Celebrities Who Come out Help Kids with Acceptance, According to Therapist
In honor of Pride Month, we talked to a therapist about how coming out can still be difficult — and how celebrities' public journeys can actually help.
When Ellen DeGeneres came out in 1997, it was tremendous and it saved lives, says New York City-based psychotherapist Tanya Koifman, who specializes in working with the LGBTQ+ community.
She spoke to Personal Space on the importance of celebrities coming out and the impact it has on young people who are struggling in honor of Pride Month.
"That was one of the first shows with an open/out LGBTQ+ person. I am certain that the fact that she came out (and many others did after her) has literally saved lives," Koifman said. "For most LGBTQ+ young people, before they feel safe and comfortable with coming out, it is important for them to see role models with similar identities, people that they look up to being out as LGBTQ+ and living fulfilled, authentic lives."
For many young people still, their communities and various life/family situations are sadly not safe spaces to come out, which of course needs to change, Koifman added.
"Seeing well-known people being open about who they are helps give hope for the future, that things will eventually get better. Perhaps their parents, peers, etc. do not accept them right now, but here are this celebrities who are out as either LGBTQ+, or are straight or cis allies to the community, who are open, proud and clear about their message of embracing diversity with regard to sexual orientation and gender identity and expression," she said.
"The media and celebrities play a huge role in shaping public opinion. What young people see as normalized (or not) around them is so important. Perhaps there is a parent of an LGBTQ+ young person, who is watching a TV show or film, with an out person whom they admire for their acting/work; this may help them be more open and understanding of their child."
Celebrities who are out "serve as a beacon of light and hope" for young LGBTQ+ people during these uncertain times, Koifman says, especially when they hear hate speech from people in positions of power.
"Our young LGBTQ+ people are already among the most vulnerable due to increased incidence of depression and suicide due to lack of acceptance in their families and in society overall," Koifman said. "There is suffering of all kinds. Hate crimes toward the LGBTQ+ community are sadly on the rise, especially toward trans women of color. The hate-filled and bigoted messages that target folks in the (LGBTQ+) community have led to increased levels of anxiety, depression, suicide, and it significantly increases worry and uncertainty about their safety and future overall."
While struggling with all that, being able to see yourself in someone who you really look up to is very powerful.
Take Miley Cyrus for example, who, when asked about her recent marriage to Liam Hemsworth, told Vanity Fair, "We’re redefining, to be f---ing frank, what it looks like for someone that’s a queer person like myself to be in a hetero relationship. A big part of my pride and my identity is being a queer person."
"I believe that every celebrity that comes out really makes the world a little better for our LGBTQ+ young people; as they really help advance the message about loving and embracing who you are, embracing diversity, and thus the movement for equality," Koifman said. "There are so many LGBTQ+ young people out there who live in situations where they do not feel safe coming out to their families and/or their peers for a variety of reasons. They often do not personally know of any LGBTQ+ folks in their communities. For a lot of these young people, reading about celebrities with similar identities, or watching them on TV, or following them on social media, makes a tremendous impact. This helps young LGBTQ+ people feel affirmed for who they are."
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