Learning and acceptance is in the air at UM as SpectrUM, an organization that promotes awareness and unity between the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered [GLBT] and straight communities throughout campus, gets ready to celebrate National Coming Out Day tomorrow, following a week of activities that have been dedicated to sexual orientation and gender issues. The theme this year: “Celebrating the Colors of Diversity.”
“[Coming Out Week] is not necessarily about coming out – it is designed to help foster a more conducive learning environment,” Luis Aguilar, the co-director of Coming Out Week, said.
Aguilar said he was encouraged to see a lot of input from the first SpectrUM meeting, though there sometimes is a fear of appearing “gay by association,” but this mentality is less frequent at UM because of the large gay community.
“It is not uncommon to know someone who’s gay,” Aguilar said.
However, Cate Dundon, secretary for SpectrUM, says many of her straight friends won’t attend SpectrUM meetings so as to avoid association with the “gay stigma,” but she was pleasantly surprised by the large amount of freshmen involvement.
“I don’t consider myself a lesbian. I consider myself a person who happens to be attracted to women,” Dundon said. “Just being a part of the GLBT community does not mean that we do not want our straight allies to come to our meetings.”
“We are all people – we do normal things,” Dundon said.
For this year’s Coming Out Week, Gay 101 sessions were held at the residential colleges.
According to those present, GLBT issues were openly discussed in an environment that was conducive to learning.
“[SpectrUM] avoids judging questions because some people are just not aware, and their questions are very valid to them,” Dundon said.
The initial issues that came up revolved around coming out, a realization and openness with one’s sexual identity.
At the session, seven out of the 12 homosexual individuals present had already come out to their parents. Most of those who haven’t come out to their parents said that doing so would jeopardize the existing relationship.
Another reason brought up for not coming out was the issue of a student’s financial dependence on a parent and the practicality of coming out following the achievement of financial independence.
A very common question asked by students was, “What makes you gay?”
“That question is as difficult to answer as, ‘What makes you straight?'” Aguilar said.
Questions about bisexuality also came up.
“I don’t love somebody for which bathroom they go into,” Kim*, a music performance student who is bisexual, said. “I love the person because it’s not about if they are a guy or a girl.”
“Sometimes bisexuality is used as a mask for gayness [by some people], in belief that people will not judge them as much,” Jake, a UM School of Music student, said.
Jake admitted to faking his own bisexuality at one point.
“Self-realization can be crippling,” he said. “Living a normal life, being gay, is almost impossible.”
Sarah, a journalism student, said that the common correlation made between masculinity and lesbians or between femininity and gay men is weak.
“Just because you are a lesbian doesn’t mean that you’re masculine,” she said.
According to SpectrUM and to students, generally, UM is a safe environment for the GLBT community.
Nicole Welch, the treasurer of SpectrUM, attends school here with her girlfriend. She says that they are “pretty open” about their relationship and have not experienced any serious problems.
Also as part of UM’s Coming Out Week, Rachel Robinson, a cast member of MTV’s Road Rules 11: The Campus Crawl, returned to her hometown of Miami when she visited the campus to talk about gay issues.
When she first realized that she was attracted to girls, Robinson would try to deny her feelings. However, after being with her partner, she felt differently.
“It was the most beautiful thing,” Robinson said. “Sexuality isn’t going to define me.”
Robinson also put her own spin on Coming Out Week.
“It’s not Coming Out Week anymore,” Robinson said. “It’s BUSTIN’ Out Week. Straight people can’t just accept homosexuality – they need to celebrate it.”
Also as part of Coming Out Week, SpectrUM held an anti-hate candlelight vigil on the Rock on Wednesday night. Students gathered to spread a message of peace and understanding.
For more information, contact SpectrUM at 305-284-5520, or stop by the office at UC 209. SpectrUM meetings are held every Thursday at 8 p.m. in the UC Flamingo Ballrooms.
*The last names of the students interviewed during the Gay 101 sessions were not included to protect their anonymity.
Fizaa Dosani can be contacted at email@example.com.