On National Coming Out Day (NCOD) this year thousands of Oswego State students, faculty, and people from the Oswego community donned shirts proclaiming “I support equality!” or “I am Out and Proud!”
Marian Holmes, director of communications for Pride Alliance, Oswego State’s LGBT organization commented on people wearing the shirts.
“I think more than anything it makes me proud of our school,” Holmes said. “It’s nice to know that we aren’t as alone as we used to be in history. It is warming to see everyone else wear the shirts because we are not as much of a minority for one day…you really feel like you belong.”
Along with this outward gesture of pride, a Coming Out Panel hosted by Active Minds convened Tuesday evening. Active Minds is an on-campus organization working to de-stigmatize mental health disorders by promoting open, enlightened discussions of mental health and to create a better life for all who suffer.
The Coming Out Panel provided people an opportunity to ask questions and become educated on the truths about the gay lifestyle.
“By holding a panel like this, it gives people a chance to really gain an understanding of coming out and being gay,” said Oswego State junior Rachel Walerstein. “For me, I see this as an opportunity to gain knowledge, which is the only way to learn to respect others.”
This is the first year that a panel has been put on. Walerstein says that in the three years she has been here the Oswego State students have only participated in handing out and wearing the t-shirts during NCOD without any further involvement.
“This is not a terrible thing, but it doesn’t directly engage the student population in understanding why coming out on such a large scale is significant. National Coming Out Day is in effect a nationwide event meant to rid the country of people who are still closeted thus eliminating any and all need for questions about who is straight, who is gay, who is a lesbian, and so on,” she said.
Pride Alliance is working towards tearing down walls and educating people as much as they can, Walerstein said.
“If there is one thing I could tell my peers about the gay lifestyle, it’s really that there are many parallels to what I assume we are considering to be the “straight” lifestyle. We fall in love, dance, study, join clubs, party, I could go on. The difference between living as someone who identifies as straight and someone who identifies as LGBT is that we are expected to live a different lifestyle. It’s not that we are that different, but that we have to live our lives either in the background or on the sidelines,” says Walerstein.
Progression is the main purpose of NCOD and Holmes and Walerstein feel that attitudes toward the LGBT community have progressed. Both Holmes and Walerstein state that they feel very safe on campus and that neither has encountered experiences that are anything but positive. Although they have both heard of instances of harassment towards others neither of them have experienced it themselves. They also offered advise to those who are still afraid to come out.
“My one suggestion for people who want to come out is that they just need to not make it into a big deal… take a deep breath, say your words calmly and honestly, and remember that people will always be there for you even if that person is not the one you are telling at that exact moment,” Holmes said.
Addressing those still closeted or those who are in the beginning stages of coming out Holmes said.
“Remember that there are resources out there,” she said. “From national ones down to Pride Alliance on campus, whose officers have office hours open for whoever needs help, advice, or just someone who understands what you’re going through at any stage of the identifying process.”
Holmes said it is about education at a societal level.
“I think more than anything I just want people to want to become educated about the gay community,” Holmes said. “My hope is that at some point people will volunteer to learn instead of having to feel like we are just shoving education down their throat at times,” Holmes said.
Those involved with putting on NCOD said they hope they will continue to impact many lives both on and off the Oswego State Campus.