Importance of Coming Out Week…

…voiced by many

Coming Out Week at Gustavus has proven to be a uniquely personal week on campus. The week usually falls earlier in October to coincide with National Coming Out Day, but this year was pushed back a few weeks to accommodate the campus’s Homecoming events. The meaning of the week, however, rings as clearly as ever. Coming Out Week is a celebration of diversity where students can choose to come out as a queer or as an ally in support of the whole LGBT community.

The Gustavus group Queers and Allies (Q&A) runs events every year, including  this year’s highlights such as featured Chapel speaker, Javen Swanson ’06, Queer We Are, Safe Zone training, BBQ&A, Andrea Gibson’s slam poetry reading, and the Drag Show. Planning for the week’s events began with the start of the school year. Their aim is to help the campus community become a better ally and to raise awareness and educate individuals on the LGBT community.

First-year Jace Riggin, a member of Q & A, co-coordinated the Safe Zone training that took place Tuesday, Oct. 30.

“As a prospective student, I visited last year over Coming Out week, and that week deeply swayed where I chose to go to college.  I saw an accepting community willing to engage in dialogue, and that is important for acceptance. Coming Out Week is for all people to be on campus and show that they are safe. You don’t have to be LGBT, but you can declare yourself to be an ally, that you support others. That is important for the institution,” Riggin said.

Queer We Are was a favorite event among many people on campus. The event encourages people who may be questioning and wanting to learn who they are to understand that they will be accepted should they decide to come out.

“Queer We Are is my favorite because you are able to share your own story. It’s not politics, it’s personal. My story is not as negative as most other people’s stories. I’m grateful that I have a accepting family. [At the same time], I feel more political acceptance than emotional acceptance. I am grateful how people listen when I say I want the right to marry. But I feel ignored (by both gay and straight people) when I talk about how hard it is to find a gay relationship in general. When you’re gay, you can only date someone from the estimated 10 percent of people who are also gay or bi. Out of that 10 percent, the majority are either closeted, in a relationship, or else not interested in you,” Senior Karl Brudvig said.

A variety of speakers took to the stage and expressed a variety of emotions and tales of coming out.

“I’m just feeling emotional and pure happiness and pride, pride in my fellow Gusties. It’s so wonderful that many people at Gustavus are so accepting,” First-year Bryden Giving said.

“I’ve always told myself to be around people who trust in who you are.  Coming out for me was really hard, and I know when I first told my mom, it was horrible. We stopped talking for a bit. But recently, my mom left a 5 page letter on my bed saying she was proud of me. It was that first proud, fist-pumping moment. And now I can help other students and kids come out and feel supported. Gustavus is a great place to change. I know it was hard, I know how it is to feel alone. Kids at Gustavus know that there are people they can trust,” said Giving.

“Whether it be this year or next year, I want to encourage everyone of all kinds, all beliefs to listen, to try and experience, to listen and understand because after all we are all members of the same community.  Coming from a small town in North Dakota, where it was not acceptable for you to be openly gay, it was challenging. Now knowing what the environment is at Gustavus, if I was ever asked to share that part with anyone here, I would be very glad to share the fact that I am a gay Gustie,” said Riggin.

The motives of Coming Out week are to raise awareness on campus of the issues the LGBT community and allies face, as well as to identify a large community of support on campus. These issues are evident on a greater scale as evidenced by the controversial proposal for the Minnesota Marriage Amendment will appear on November’s election ballot.

Monday’s Chapel service featured Javen Swanson, ’06, who spoke out on why it was important to Vote No. He mentioned the adage, “The truth and the truth alone will set you free.”

“Swanson was a Gustavus graduate who felt that he was unable to come out during his time at Gustavus. He impassionedly argued why it was important to Vote No. In order to be free, we must be able to speak truths. If we can’t allow people to speak truths about themselves, we would inhibit their rights and be unable to let them be free,” Riggin said who also spoke at Monday’s Chapel service.

“This is something that will affect your family and friends. You need to realize that these are people. They want to meet someone. Marriage is not everything, but it will give you equality, and that’s a start,” Riggin said.

Although the events  brought up during Coming Out Week range from joyous celebrations to controversial discussions on a greater, national level, it is evident that the week fulfills a need on campus.

“The most important thing about Coming Out Week is people who don’t have someone close  to them who is a part of the LGBT community, can recognize and connect to someone on campus, to someone of the Gustavus community. Coming Out Week is the gayest week on campus,” First-year Dani Schwartz said.