George Mason University celebrated National Coming Out Week last week, but while “coming out” has become easier for those who identify as “gay” or “lesbian,” other identities in the LGBTQ community are still facing harsh obstacles.
National Coming Out Week is a time when LGBTQ people and allies come together to talk about coming out, form rallies and workshops and let people know about their existence. National Coming Out Day, which goes along with the week as well as the month, is always celebrated on or near Oct. 11. However, Ric Chollar, associate director for Mason’s LGBTQ resources, says that the idea of coming out is always changing.
“On the one hand, so many improvements are happening [but] for trans folks, change has been happening, but much more slowly and lots of violence and lots of obstacles to health care and lots of problems still exist for trans folks,” Chollar said. “Being ‘out’ and coming out has become easier for folks in the gay and lesbian part of the LGBTQ, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s the case for trans folks.”
Mason’s LGBTQ Resources website says that the National Coming Out Day was founded 26 years ago to commemorate Robert Eichsberg and Jean O’Leary’s march on Washington for lesbian and gay rights. Mason celebrates the week differently every year and is usually based on other campus events going on during the same weeks says Geoffrey Payne, undersecretary for identity affairs for student government. Payne says that Turn Off the Violence Week works really well with Coming Out Week and can enrich the conversation when talking about coming out and how violence affects the LGBTQ community.
“For a lot of people perhaps in the gay and lesbian community that coming out is getting easier for them every day,” Payne said. “But a lot of the times when we’re talking about people in the bisexual community and people who identify as transgender, there are a lot more social stigmas to their identities that we’re still fighting [against].”
Em Eichelberger, a graduate student studying social work, says that having a specific week and day helps give the LGBTQ community a voice.
“One thing that I have learned in my interactions with various institutions and the world as a whole is that our society carries this notion that everyone is straight and cisgender,” Eichelberg said. “For a lot of people within the LGBTQ community, this day represents an instance where erasure can be combated by allowing students to say, ‘this is who I am and you cannot take that away from me.'”
Chollar says that Coming Out Week can affect everyone, including straight people.
“Many straight folks have LGBTQ people in their lives,” Chollar said. “This might be a day where [LGBTQ] people in their lives want to engage with them and talk more about parts of their lives they haven’t been able to talk about [before].”
Payne says that there is often the question of whether Coming Out day and week pressures students to come out, but stresses that someone should never come out until they are ready.
“We never come out just one time in our life. We don’t just come out to the very important people in our lives like our parents or our friends or teachers or co-workers,” Payne said. “We are coming out to the people we meet every day.”
Featured image courtesy of Kevin Goebel. No changes were made. Creative Commons License.