Students at UM will join people all over the country today in their celebration of National Coming Out Day, an event aimed at empowering gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) individuals. Sponsored by SpectrUM, the student organization on campus that celebrates diversity in sexual orientation and gender identity, the day is part of Coming Out Week, which began yesterday and will last until Thursday.
“The goal is to raise awareness about gay issues and provide campus-wide support to the national event,” Raymond Matthews, Coming Out Week coordinator, said.
Matthews added that many people don’t realize that there is a transgender community on campus. Therefore, the event also serves as a learning tool.
“We’re willing to work to further students’ understanding of others who may be different,” he said. “We want participants to learn something about GLBT and not just stereotype.”
One of the major misconceptions of Coming Out Week is that only those who are revealing their sexual orientation or gender identity are participating. Matthews emphasizes it’s also about coming out and supporting GLBT individuals, whether you’re gay, straight or not sure.
Chris Fisher, junior and columnist for The Hurricane, ties the significance of the event to the role UM plays in the community.
“UM is a very diverse campus and Coming Out Week is part of that diversity,” he said. “It is much easier for the community to respect GLBT when many are involved.”
For many, including Fisher, who is participating in his third Coming Out Week, the most important event is tomorrow night’s anti-hate candlelight vigil at the Rock. The vigil will honor the victims of hate crimes-crimes committed because of the victims’ religious affiliation, race, gender or sexual orientation.
“Whether or not you respect gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender individuals, we can all agree that hate sucks,” Fisher said. “Whether it comes in racism or homophobia, it is not a ‘Canes value.”
Also on the list of events is Queer Jeopardy, an entertaining and informative game-show about queer issues and Thursday night’s Coming Out Party to end the celebration. Joining in the festivities will be Ruby Sue the cow, the official mascot of the week-long event.
The first National Coming Out Day was held on Oct. 11, 1987, when half a million people marched in Washington D.C. for GLBT equality.
While society has become more accepting of GLBT individuals over the years, these events serve perhaps an even greater purpose, according to Matthews.
“In years past it has been an outlet to express sexual identity,” he said. “Today, while it serves as an opportunity to celebrate who you are, it also shows how we can work together for a greater good.”
“We still have the NAACP although we don’t have segregation anymore,” Matt Mckee, freshman, said. “Groups like this and events like this support minority populations and I personally believe it will always help others.”
Paul Fajardo can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.