Coming Out Week is an annual event sponsored by the Queers and Allies (Q&A) student organization. This year, Coming Out Week coincides with National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11. Not only is Coming Out Week a time for students to celebrate pride, but also a time to show support for one another.
“It spreads the message that Gustavus is a loving community, supporting queers and allies alike. Personally, I know that I never feel a greater connection to the Gustavus community than I do during Coming Out Week. It’s a week when love is so palpable that it can touch everyone on campus,” Q&A Co-President and ally Callie Wicklund said.
Q&A has been in existence for a number of years on campus and is “dedicated to creating and promoting open dialogue, awareness, and acceptance of the diversity of sex, gender, and sexual orientation and providing a support system for the LGBTQ community at Gustavus,” according to their mission statement.
However, the amount of acceptance for LGBTQ individuals on campus didn’t necessarily come easily.
“Q&A has changed a lot since I first started attending the meetings three years ago. I feel like I came into a group that was struggling for an inch of acceptance at Gustavus, but in the last three years, it has evolved to become an organization that is slowly spreading ally-ism throughout campus,” Wicklund said.
Recently, the group has been working to establish gender-neutral housing on campus. This would benefit transgender and genderqueer students, in addition to Gustavus students in general.
“We’ve been working in all facets to make Gustavus a more queer-friendly place, which truthfully helps market the school to a lot of potential students. For example, a couple of our members, who started at Gustavus in the past two years have stated that they visited during Coming Out Week, and it’s the reason they knew this was right place for them,” Wicklund said.
However, while it’s important to students to celebrate pride, it’s also important to remember that there is still widespread intolerance of LGBTQ individuals in the world.
“Coming Out Week is important to the Gustavus community as a celebration of difference on our campus and in the world beyond. But, it should also be a reminder of places that still do not welcome sexual and gender deviations from the hetero-normative, and of the responsibilities that we all share to achieve equality for all,” Q&A Advisor Rob Kendrick said.
National Coming Out Day was first observed in 1988 as a reminder that one of the most basic tools for the LGBTQ community is the power of coming out. This year marked National Coming Out Day’s 25th anniversary, and to serve as a reminder of its beginnings, the theme was ‘Coming Out Still Matters.’
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. When people know someone who is LGBTQ, they are far more likely to support equality under the law. Beyond that, our stories can be powerful to each other. Every person who speaks up changes more hearts and minds, and creates new advocates for equality.”
One of Coming Out Week’s most popular events was Queer We Are, an event where students and faculty were able to share coming-out stories, whether it was about relatives, friends, or themselves. Every year, some students come out to the Gustavus community for the first time during this open mic event. The experience can be funny, touching, heartbreaking, and hopeful all at the same time. It is a chance to hear personal stories, and learn about fellow students.
“This was by far the most community-building experience we had all week,” Senior Q&A member Tristan Fernstrom said. “By doing this, there is a level of trust that is shared among all these people. People laugh, cry, hug, and open up in a way that you don’t see every day.”
Another thing you certainly don’t see every day at Gustavus is a marriage proposal.
Three years ago, Lindsay Sawatzky ’11 got on stage during Queer We Are to talk about her coming out process. Current Senior Hannah Vogel was in the crowd, and also shared her coming out story that night. Sawatzky took special notice of Vogel at the event and the two started talking afterwards.
They sat together at the Drag Show later that week, and it became their first unofficial date. A few weeks later, they started dating and have been together since.
“Coming Out Week has significance to us because it is when we first met. We have always talked about how thankful we were that we had that event to bring us together, because who knows if we would have met in any other circumstance. Since that first Coming Out Week, we have gone every year as a sort of anniversary,” Vogel said.
The two have recently been talking about their next step forward, and even looked at rings together this summer.
“I had bought her a ring over the summer and picked it up a couple weeks ago because I knew our three-year anniversary was coming up. I knew she wanted to be the one to propose, but she was so good at throwing me off that I started to think it might not be soon, after all. Despite being thrown off, I had decided to carry her ring around throughout the next couple weeks – just in case! I wanted to be able to pop the question right back to her,” Vogel said.
On Monday night at Queer We Are, Vogel had the ring in her purse, just in case, but she had already stopped thinking it might happen that night. Sawatzky got on stage and began telling the story about how they met, and how Coming Out Week brought them together.
“I thought it was so sweet of her to go on stage and speak, especially as an alumni of 2011. Then, she invited me on stage and proposed! I cried the entire time. Once I had said ‘yes,’ I got it together and pulled out her ring and proposed right back to her. It was such a perfect moment for us. I don’t think it could have been more meaningful. And it was all because of this event that Q&A puts on during Coming Out Week,” Vogel said.
Vogel has always felt that having a week for the LGBTQ community brought people together, comforted them, and gave them a safe place to be themselves.
“I love that about Gustavus,” Vogel said. “The support has been overwhelming. We feel so lucky to come from a community that has been so supportive of our relationship. We have been very fortunate in the support we continue to receive and we are both so excited for what our future is going to hold now.”
While acceptance and support are the main goals of Coming Out Week, having fun is another. The Drag Show is the most popular event of Coming Out Week, and ranks as one of the highest attended events at Gustavus.
“It’s an amazing thing, seeing so many people at this event. So many people come out to show their support. Granted, many of them just want to see their friends in drag, but in general there is a deeper meaning to an event like this. We can be open with each other and have fun in a really gay atmosphere and not think twice about it,” Fernstrom said.
The Drag Show is held in the Caf on the Friday of every Coming Out Week, and features Gustavus students who sign up to perform. Each year, the show is hosted by drag professionals, and judged by Gustavus faculty members.
Coming Out Week attests to the vibrantly diverse community values at Gustavus. It’s an important event for many students, and it means something different to each of them.
“It is an opportunity for Gustavus students to reflect on their experiences and relationships. For some, it is truly an opportunity to come out to their peers, families, or communities with a strong support system in place. For others, it is an opportunity to show support and identify themselves publicly as allies. And for many, it is a chance to learn more about sexuality and gender diversity. Most of all, it’s a lot of fun and an opportunity to be open and proud of whoever you are,” Richardson said.