Each year, OUTreach – a student organization at Booth working to advance social and professional opportunities for LGBTQ students and allies – hosts a panel of student speakers in honor of National Coming Out Day, and as part of broader Ally Week programming. The goal of the event is to foster a sense of community within Booth and the broader LGBTQ community, as having allies remains an integral part of shaping a world that is inclusive and encouraging of LGBTQ rights.
National Coming Out day is held as a day to support and encourage people who identify as LGBTQ to come out to their friends and families. It is held on the anniversary of the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, so we first observe National Coming Out Day as a reminder that one of our most basic tools is the power of coming out. According to the Human Rights Campaign, one out of every two Americans has someone close to them who is gay or lesbian. For transgender people, that number is only one in ten. Having fellow Boothies physically there was a great gesture of solidarity, especially in a time when rights are being litigated in several cases by the Supreme Court.
This year’s panel was comprised of current first- and second-year students who shared their stories of coming out to their friends, families, and peers. The stories highlighted each individual’s internal struggle with acceptance and the outward conflicts they faced throughout their journey. For some of the first-year students, this was the first time that they got to speak in front of a large audience of their Booth peers – we are especially grateful that they had the courage to share their stories.
The stories were unique to each person, though many shared similar themes of internal conflict, fear, and disjointed identity. Some stories were sad, while other stories brought out roars of laughter from the audience. The common thread was the immense emotion that was produced from sharing such personal, intimate, and delicate stories with the members of our community – some of whom our panelists were familiar with and others whom they did not know.
After the panel, many people – participants and attendees alike – approached us in the Harper Center and as we were walking around campus. They commented on how touched they had been by the stories, and how glad they were that they could experience something like that. For us, that is the most rewarding part of being co-chairs of OUTreach: hearing that people had listened to these stories and been moved by them.
OUTreach is looking forward to providing more opportunities to show allyship over the course of this year. Having a supportive community matters a great deal, and even small actions can make a big difference. For instance, Booth now gives students the option to print pronouns on their nametags that are displayed in class; this represents a great opportunity for all to show support for the broader LGBTQ community. OUTreach will continue to put on events throughout the year to strengthen the sense of community and make Booth a supportive and inclusive place for all.