Personal coming out stories shared on National Coming Out Day: ‘It all starts by coming out’
By Geoffrey Billeter
The room swelled to standing room only as students and faculty shared their deeply personal coming out stories.
Each story concluded to the supportive applause and cheers from the audience.
“Just being in the room is powerful,” said professor and Pride Alliance Joe Hinton, who kicked off the afternoon by sharing his own experiences before coming out.
Hinton recalled taking girls as dates to high school dances, and many self-identified gay men had similar experiences about the pressure to perform a certain level of hetero-masculinity before coming out.
“It all starts by coming out,” said Pride Alliance president Eric Ortega, underscoring the importance of National Coming Out Day.
Ortega, along with Pride Alliance vice president, Alejandra Peña, organized the club’s National Coming Out Day festivities, with help from Hinton.
National Coming Out Day memorializes the Oct. 11 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1987, and also echoes the activism of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California.
“Gay people, we will not win our rights by staying quietly in our closets,” Milk famously said during a 1978 speech delivered in San Francisco. “Gay brothers and sisters...you must come out.”
That message persists 39 years after his assassination with National Coming Out Day.
Public perception of gay and lesbian men and women may have improved in the intervening four decades, but National Coming Out Day remains relevant for many people in the LGBTQIA community as the struggle to live openly is continually threatened; not just as gay and lesbian men and women, but as bisexual, transgender, intersex, and asexual people.
Continuing the work of generations before, students and faculty at Harold Washington shared their coming out experiences on October 11th, 2017.
Kimberly Butler, a first year psychology major, wore the asexual flag around her shoulders as a cape while she spoke about coming out to friends as asexual and aromantic.
“Asexual means that you don’t feel sexual attraction and aromantic means you don’t feel romantic attraction,” said Butler.
“The first person I told was my ex-girlfriend, and she didn’t believe that I was asexual, but she believed that I was aromantic. And then my other ex, he just didn’t believe it at all. He said it was a bandwagon that I was hopping on.
“It made me feel kind of like you know, [I] didn’t have anybody to go to with things. So it was hard for a little while,” said Butler as she recounted coming out to friends as early as the seventh grade.
National Coming Out Day is still important in 2017 so all orientations and gender identities can be recognized in society, Butler said. That kind of representation can help others feel secure in coming out. She also talked of the work that needs to be done to support the community after coming out.
“We don’t really see that many [LGBTQIA focused health] centers, besides the one on Halsted,” Butler said, referring to the Howard Brown health center on Halsted. “So I want to open up more centers ... and then provide therapy and psychological help, because I see a lot of mental illness in the community,” she added.
National Coming Out Day is a reminder to live openly, but the activism of coming out and engaging in other people’s stories is a year-round effort.
“You’re coming out your whole life; you never stop coming out,” said Lawrence Kubajak, a photography major who recounted growing up gay in a strongly Catholic, Polish community where coming out for LGBTQIA people is discouraged.
“I was born and raised in Poland and I moved to the states when I was 19. I definitely grew up in a religion that I don’t think would really allow me to be myself as I am right now. When I think about my past, how I grew up and how I was raised in the religion, especially in a country that is still so religious, I feel like I was sort of raised in a cult-level religion. I never thought that gay marriage would be OK. I never thought that gay people adopting kids would be something I myself would be ever OK with,” said Kubajak.
The struggle for self-acceptance in a community that is hostile was a common theme in coming out day stories. Hearing other people’s experiences can ease the pressure from that hostility and change perceptions for the better.
Kubajak moved to Chicago in 2004 and described his trepidation about socializing in the gay community, saying it took him four years before going to Boystown--a predominantly LGTBQIA neighborhood on Chicago’s North Side. He said meeting more people in the community helped him become more open-minded.
“I feel like us as people, not [just] gay people, we need to educate ourselves constantly, and we need to question things, we need to read, we need to listen to other people’s stories,” said Kubajak.