Author: Marjorie Camarda
October 11 marked the 20th annual National Coming Out Day. Oxy’s Queer-Straight Alliance (QSA) hosted a week of events to encourage openness about sexual orientation and raise awareness of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered/transsexual, queer/questioning and intersex (LGBTQI) issues.
Though Coming Out Day was founded in the United States in the late 1980s, it has since morphed into an international celebration. In the U.S., Coming Out Day is managed by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), which defines the event as a “celebration of coming out and living openly.”
Coming Out Day was founded by psychologist and author Dr. Robert Eichberg and Jean O’Leary, a former nun and current gay and lesbian rights activist. On this day, members of the LGBTQI community are encouraged to wear symbols of gay pride to show the presence of LGBTQI individuals in all facets of society.
This year, Coming Out Day fell on the 20th anniversary of the Gay and Lesbian March on Washington and the subsequent unveiling of the AIDS Memorial Quilt. The quilt is comprised of thousands of panels designed by loved ones of people who have died of AIDS. It was created in a time when most funeral homes refused to handle the remains of victims of AIDS. To reflect this discrimination, each quilt panel is three feet by six feet, the size of a human grave.
To complement the collage-type quilt, Coming Out Day 2007 was celebrated with a digital collage. HRC asked LGBTQI individuals to create a short video describing “what inspires you about living honestly and openly.” Many were personal accounts of coming out experiences and advice on how to come out.
Oxy’s QSA meeting on October 9 addressed “Political Activism in the Queer Community.” Guest speakers from LGBTQI advocacy organizations presented on the different options young people have to get involved in the fight for equal rights for LGBTQI Americans.
Alumus Shumway Marshall (’05) of Equality California (EQCA) spoke about his group’s “campaign to open hearts and minds in California.” EQCA works to pass statewide legislation, raise awareness and correct social problems that result from the appropriation of the rights of LGBTQI individuals.
Recently, this has included helping homeless youth who are forced to leave home after coming out and making attempts to distribute condoms in juvenile detention centers, where the rate of AIDS is higher than average.
Also present were representatives of Stonewall Young Democrats, a Los Angeles-based organization for LGBTQI youth and their allies under age 36. They urged students to volunteer at the booths they set up outside of nightclubs and other popular hangouts to register people to vote, or to help organize local events they host for LGBTQI youths and their allies to meet each other and talk about issues that affect them.
On October 10, QSA hosted a screening of The Bubble, a film by director Eytan Fox. The film depicts a developing relationship between a Palestinian man and an Israeli man in Tel Aviv and has already received international recognition, including an award at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival.
On October 11, Coming Out Day brought QSA’s LGBTQI Dinner. Held in Johnson 101, it was an opportunity for LGBTQI students to come out or talk about coming out.
Although part of the purpose of the week was to raise awareness in the straight community, this was a private event for LGBTQI students. Organizers did not intend to send a message of exclusivity, but rather sought to create a safe environment for students considering taking the monumental step of coming out.
“Generally, we have the week in celebration of those brave individuals who have made it a personal decision to proudly declare that they identify as LGBTQI (or anything other than heterosexual),” QSA president Tomas Boatwright (senior) said.
Throughout the week, there was a Cooler display designed to raise awareness about LGBTQI issues on campus.
“Generally I want to say that Oxy is an open and accepting campus for LGBTQI identified people,” Boatwright said. “But everyone has a different experience. [. . . ] Some language and behavior on campus does not allow for the whole campus to be a safe place.”
To remedy this, the Cooler display included a 10-foot poster for students to sign a pledge to create a climate where all types of sexual orientation are a source of pride.
Though Coming Out Week has come to a close, QSA is planning events for the rest of the year that reflect its mission statement, which aims to “educate and promote awareness about identity and sexual orientation in the Occidental College community and to help those in need of understanding and acceptance.”
Scheduled for the coming months are movie screenings; speakers; a trip to Fusion; a Queer People of Color film festival; the annual Genderfuck dance; and Gaypril, LGBTQI Awareness Month in April.
This article has been archived, for more requests please contact us via the support system.