While research shows that coming out can lower people's anxiety and improve their self-esteem and relationships, 42 percent of people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender lied about their personal relationships in the past year, according to a poll by the Human Rights Campaign.
Unfortunately, they often have good reason to — 39 percent of Americans still consider homosexuality "morally wrong," according to a May Gallup poll. Meanwhile LGBT youth are still the target of hate crimes, as demonstrated by the rash of youth suicides that took place across the country last year following incidents of intense harassment and bullying.
To help people come out of the closet, Hood College graduate and psychology major Charity Smith launched "Project: OUT," which enables people to send anonymous coming-out letters via Facebook, email or regular mail, decorated as they choose and addressed to whomever they want. View a slideshow of coming-out postcards in the gradPSYCH digital edition.
Smith, who drew inspiration from a similar community art project called PostSecret, has garnered 3,670 Facebook fans and some 200 submissions since launching the project last year.
"I am so humbled by what people are willing to share with me," says Smith. "In part, that is why the project remains anonymous, because people can be so much more honest."
In one letter, a politician's daughter says she can't come out as a lesbian because she doesn't want to harm her father's career. In another, a woman describes hiding behind a facade of makeup and nail polish, afraid to reveal her attraction to other women. Other submissions relay inspiring and sometimes funny messages from those who have successfully come out.
While she wants the project, which is not APA-sponsored, to reach anyone who might benefit from it, Smith particularly hopes it reaches older adults.
"They're from a generation where your entire life rested on the fact that you were straight," she says. "I've met an unfortunate number of people who have had to lead this prescribed life of Ozzie and Harriet, when they really wanted to be Ozzie and Ozzie."
Given Project: OUT's popularity, Smith would like to see it blossom into a book or a traveling presentation. But even if it never reaches a wider audience, Smith feels she's made a difference.
"Even if I get only one letter a month, I plan to keep the project going," Smith says. "Everyone should be able to say at least once in their life, 'This is who I am.'"