LGTBQ and Coming Out Week provide students with outlets

As part of Coming Out Week, MU students discuss their experiences and issues faced in the LGTBQ community.
A pride flag waves in Lowry Mall on Thursday in support of Coming Out Week, a national annual event that recognizes the identities of those in the lesbian, gay, transgender, queer, questioning and ally community. Students from MU's LGBTQ Resource Center were at the display in support of the celebration.

No two coming out stories are the same.

Triangle Coalition President Joshua Barton was faced with a choice, to tell the truth or repress it, when his mother overheard his phone conversation when he described his first kiss with another male.

Deciding against lying, he came out to his mother as gay.

"That was the biggest shock to her, but I knew she knew," Barton said. "But it was something that was never talked about. For me to actually say it was a shock to her."

Barton, a senior, grew up in a primarily white rural community, in a conservative, religious family. He said since coming out to his family, there have been ups and downs.

"They are very religious, so it goes against what they believe is right, right for me," Barton said. "Basically now we're at a point that they know I live the life that I'm living and they choose not to delve into it. It makes more sense for us to have peace in our family by not talking about it."

But Barton said coming out did not solve all his problems. Identifying himself as a gay man, he said, was a big struggle.

"For me, coming out was a real spiritual conflict," Barton said. "It still is today. Am I going to hell? Is this a sin?"

After coming out to his family, Barton came out to his friends. When he came to MU, he was openly gay.

Coming out, he said, is a continual process in which one must always decide when it is appropriate to be open about one's sexuality.

"It's a lifelong thing," he said. "It's a balancing act."

Barton told this story as part of his Coming Out Tutorial, one of several events at MU celebrating Coming Out Week, an annual national event recognizing the identities of the lesbian, gay, transgender, queer, questioning and ally community.

The week consists of events and information sessions. At the Coming Out Tutorial, Barton and others shared their own coming out stories while discussing the obstacles involved.

Barton said coming out means the loss of heterosexual privileges. These privileges, he said, could be as simple as a couple walking hand-in-hand down the sidewalk without stigma.

When freshman Taylor Clark came out as bisexual, it was difficult for her to come out to her parents.

"Growing up as an adolescent female, they were weird about me hanging out with the opposite gender and having male friends over at my house," she said. "Being able to come out as a bisexual, it literally became an issue of whether or not I would be able to be allowed to be around my female friends anymore. It was like, if you're not going to believe me when I say this guy is just a friend, you're not going to believe me if I say 'This girl is just a friend of mine.'"

Freshman Michael Crawford said he faced social stigma coming out as bisexual.

"You get bad looks from both gay men and straight women at the same time," he said.

Sophomore Ryan Hovendick has been out since high school, but only recently, when his sister considered marriage, did he realize he has never seen a gay wedding before.

"There aren't traditions, there isn't anything," Hovendick said. "When I plan to get married, how is it going to look?"

For Allies in Action President and founder Lance Pierce, his biggest struggle with coming out was how others perceived him.

"With people I knew, they had to realize that I was still the same person," he said.

At the same time, Pierce said coming out requires patience.

"They're trying to grapple with it, too," Pierce said of friends and family. "Provide information for them."

Allies in Action is a student-run organization that works to make MU more LGBTQ-friendly.

"Allies have a lot of social power," Pierce said. "It's important that we're all in it for the same purpose."

Allies have a coming out process of their own, Pierce said. They have to be comfortable in their support of the LGBTQ community.

Pierce said he values that Allies in Action also works alongside other LGBTQ organizations.

"It's important we work together because we get really separated with labels," he said. "We can be more effective as one unit."

Next Thursday, Pierce and others will cover Carnahan Quad with 1,752 flags, representing the amount of suicides in the LGBTQ community every year.

Pierce said people should be more aware of suicide in LGBTQ community.

Citing the 2007 documentary "For the Bible Tells Me So," Pierce said a member of the LGBTQ community commits suicide every five hours, and 20 more attempt it.

At the end of the day, those who participate in the suicide prevention event will ceremoniously pull the flags out of the ground while making a resolution for change.

There are suicide helplines, including The Trevor Project, which takes its name from the 1994 short film "Trevor."

According to the project's Web site, the basis of the film is a gay 13-year-old boy named Trevor who, when rejected by friends and peers because of his sexuality, makes an attempt to take his life.

Pierce said a third of transgender people commit suicide. He noted that information sessions during Trans Awareness Week in November would bring more attention to this.

The LGBTQ Resource Center provides a safe environment for anyone seeking help or education, interim coordinator Ryan Black said.

The resource center, Black said, tries to focus on advocacy and supporting organizations like Triangle Coalition with staff and finances.

Black said one of the biggest fears facing people reluctant to come out is a fear of being rejected.

"The resource center is there to provide instant acceptance for people coming out," Black said. "It provides an instant support network."

Pierce said people should not fear coming out.

"It's important that everyone come out," he said. "When a face is put on a minority group, it's hard to hate that group."



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