Coming out. It’s a rite of passage for every LGBT person. It can happen at different times. There are some brave souls who come out during high school, some who come out during their first semester of college and some who will not come out until well into their adulthood. It can happen in different ways. Face to face, in a letter or even with a simple click of a mouse on Facebook. Everyone has their own way they are comfortable with and their own time when they are ready. How you do it and when you do it isn’t important. What’s important is the act of coming out.
Coming out of the closet is a process. It’s a process of figuring out who you are, accepting who you are and sharing who you are with others. It’s one of the most important things an LGBT person will do in their life. It begins with the realization that you’re a little different than your friends. You’re not interested in dating the same people they are, your celebrity crush is a lot different than their celebrity crush. It’s learning to become OK with the fact that you’re different, and eventually becoming proud of that fact. And then, one day, you work up the courage to celebrate your difference and share it with the people who are most important to you — which is hard. People spend a lot of time trying to minimize their differences and here we are, publicly declaring ours. As difficult as it may be, it’s even more liberating.
Knowing how important it is for LGBT people to come out and have a safe space to do so, Oct. 11 was declared National Coming Out Day in 1988. It is a day that encourages the LGBT community to come together and come out.
Not satisfied with just one day, Resident Director Nu’Rodney Prad created National Coming Out Week in 2009 as a way to educate students about what National Coming Out Day is. NCOW is an entire week of events and activities centered on bringing awareness and visibility to Temple’s LGBT community.
NCOW has grown and evolved during the past four years.
“In the beginning, we were limited to what we could speak on,” Prad said. “It was about going into issues and discussing them as a group.”
What began with simply the idea that “Gay is Okay” in 2009, now encourages students to “Be You.” This year, NCOW featured a panel discussion on gender roles and stereotypes, a student festival at the Bell Tower and, for the first time, a drag show. Prad and NCOW co-chair, Resident Director Temple Jordan, said she hopes the events provided not only fun and entertainment, but also education about an important part of the LGBT community.
Most importantly, NCOW sets Temple apart from other universities in terms of LGBT visibility on campus.
“When you see yourself represented in an institution, it allows you to say, ‘Other people can do it and so can I,’” Jordan said. “It’s important for any institution to do that.”
National Coming Out Day isn’t just a day for LGBT people to come out of the closet; it’s also a day for anyone to come out as an ally. Jordan stressed the fact that you don’t have to consider yourself part of the LGBT community in order to participate.
“Every minority group needs their own space,” she said. “But we still need to bridge that gap with allies. People who want to support us have an opportunity. We’re stronger when we have people behind us.”
Coincidentally, National Coming Out Day marks an anniversary for me, personally. It was one year ago right around this time that I came out to all of the important people in my life. It took a while. There were months full of anxiety about how I was going to do it. I liken my coming out process to riding a roller coaster. From afar, it looked like no big deal — fun, even. All these other people had done it and I would, too. But as I got closer to actually doing it, like being on the line as it creeps closer to actually getting on the ride, the nervousness and doubt set in.
“I don’t know if I can do this,” I thought. “Maybe this isn’t the right time — I think I’ll wait and try again when I’m a little older,” and I’d get out of line, head hung in defeat.
I cannot tell you how many times I told myself that I was going to tell someone, anyone, only to chicken out at the last minute and put it off for another day, week, month. But once I finally decided to do it, once I finally made it to the front of the line and buckled myself in, it was over in a flash.
The words were out, the ride was over and I was still alive. And then, of course, I just wanted to ride it again and again. I was excited to tell the rest of my friends, the rest of my family, maybe even everyone who reads The Temple News.
Sara Patterson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.