Students embrace identity during Coming Out Week

Three years ago, Tyler Katz was a freshman at UM unsure about his sexual identity.

October 11, nationally recognized as Coming Out Day, came around and he was still struggling with his orientation. During that same week, SpectrUM, UM’s largest LGBT organization, was holding its Coming Out Week. It was during this time that he came to a realization: Katz decided that he no longer wanted to  hide “in the closet” and wanted to be true to who he was.

“I came out to myself on October 11,” Katz said. “I was questioning myself and never really admitted to myself and was in denial. Finally, in my freshman year, I said to myself I didn’t want to be in denial anymore.”

Katz’s story is one of many from the LGBT community, and as SpectrUM hosts this year’s Coming Out Week, members hope similar stories will emerge of students yearning to reveal their identities.

President of SpectrUM Mary Balise said that individuals who choose to reveal their identities this week won’t have to be alone, as SpectrUM stands in solidarity with those who make that decision.

“One of the reasons that I love SpectrUM so much is it is a safe place that people can come out,” Balise said. “If someone is in a safe space to come out, they should just do it, because in the long run it will be better for them and they will be happier.”

True to the week’s purpose, Balise notes that she sees more students coming out during that week. The week coincides with Coming Out Day, which was established after a national march in 1987, called “The Great March,” where half a million people marched in Washington advocating lesbian and gay rights in front of the Supreme Court building that lead to a victory for LGBT rights.

Katz noted that for those coming out, there may be a lot of questions. In Katz’s own experience of coming out, there were the burdens of society’s expectations to be straight, but he stayed true to who he was on national Coming Out Day.

“There were times I questioned my identity as bisexual,” Katz said. “I still had this thought that I should be straight, society wants me to be straight. Maybe I was bi because I liked boys and girls. But no. I didn’t like girls. I was gay.”

The process of fully coming out was long, Katz said. Although he made peace with himself and his identity, coming out to his friends and family took much longer. Eventually, he found an accepting home in SpectrUM and hopes Coming Out Week will show others that there is a place to feel embraced.

“I hope that this week shines a light that it is OK to be in the community. There is a community that is here where some people face this situation. So I hope this gives people the confidence to come out and be themselves, as well,” Katz said. “This week is about the courage to come out yourself. It’s a week of authenticity, of being yourself and finally putting away any double life or secrets.”

With the opening of the LGBTQ Student Center, SpectrUM has received increased support and extra funds to carry out the week. Margo Hall, vice-president of SpectrUM, said this allowed the organization to have a huge rainbow balloon arch by the bookstore, increasing its presence, which she said led to an outpour of support, including Tuesday’s event where there was an “ally photoshoot” at the U Statue where students showed their solidarity and support of the community.

“Community has been really good. We have been able to do a lot more things and it allows us to make our events bigger,” Hall said. “And I do feel a big sense of support on campus. Hundreds of people came out yesterday for our photoshoot.”

By hosting these events during Coming Out Week and under the larger umbrella of LGBT History Month, Hall said it brings students to remember those members of the LGBT community who took their own lives due to the injustice they faced because of their sexual orientations, as well as those who have made notable contributions to society and advanced the cause of LGBT rights.

“It is a time to talk about our own experiences – the struggles we faced and the triumphs we had,” Hall said. “And to show that there is a place for them on campus, where they will be accepted unconditionally and that they are not alone.”