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Students ‘out’ to help peers

Coming out and accepting your true identity may be easier with the “Out @ BGSU” program that has resumed at the University this semester.

The Counseling Center is offering this support group for students to talk about issues relevant to sexual orientation or gender identity.

The program was created in fall 2003, but has been revamped to better serve students at the University.

“We gave it a purpose, [and] we gave it core values,” said Nicky Damania, graduate assistant for the Center for Multicultural and Academic Initiatives for LGBTA-Q programs and services in the LGBTA-Q Resource Center. “I believe we are a little bit more prepared for different individuals to come.”

Motivation to create the program two years ago was due to the fact that many students who were questioning their sexuality or identity did not feel comfortable expressing their concerns to other students, said Bai-Yin Chen, psychology resident at the Counseling Center.

“I think the best thing we can offer is a safe place and a supportive environment because we emphasize confidentiality,” she said. “I think we provide something they cannot get from many other places or any other places.”

The program requires that students be screened before entering the group. It not only allows counselors to get to know the student, but also provides them with insight into the types of issues the individual is struggling with.

“The purpose of the screening is just to see what they’re questioning with [and] how can we better help them,” Damania said. “So if they join the group before they do, we can get some materials ready for prepping ourselves.”

Individuals are often raised to believe that we are supposed to be heterosexuals, said Chen. The lack of exposure to queer communities makes it more difficult for students who are questioning themselves to accept it.

“When they are struggling with their own, trying to figure out who they are or accepting who they are, that kind of message often times [is] played in the back of their head, ‘no I’m not’ or ‘I shouldn’t be,'” she said.

Although individuals often struggle with questioning their own sexuality, students overall have started to become more accepting of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered students, Chen said.

“I think the society in general on college campus is becoming more accepting of gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered students,” she said. “However, I still think we have a long way to go. It’s great we have made such progress, but at the same time we also know that we still have a lot of work to do.”

Students may not realize that simple phrases often used around campus such as ‘You’re gay’ or ‘That’s so gay’ can be detrimental to an individual that is confused about his or her sexual orientation, Damania said.

“It creates an environment that is not suitable for individuals who are struggling with their sexual identity,” he said.

Education and awareness are major components in dealing with any situation, and are things that are lacking with the sometimes sensitive topic of sexuality and gender identity. A large majority of students at the University are from small towns in Ohio and have not been introduced to queer or queer communities, Damania said.

“I don’t think it’s not supportive; I think it’s more that they’re not aware and not educated,” he said.

Students usually start questioning themselves around the time they enter college. They are away from their parents and away from the community they grew up in and begin to become more independent, Damania said.

“By having a group like this, it shows students that they can question themselves and hopefully by questioning themselves, they’ll be more comfortable on campus,” he said.

As more people become comfortable expressing their identity, and it’s more common to know someone who identifies themselves as queer, the level of acceptance should increase as well, Chen said.

“Once there are more people who are out and people have more interaction with people they know that are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender, they will become more aware that they are human beings,” she said. “They are not anything less than heterosexual individuals.”

Respect is hard to achieve anywhere, but Damania hopes the University will become a place where individuals treat other individuals with respect.

“Whatever your beliefs are and whatever your identity is, it’s respected because when it comes down to the common denominator, everyone is human.”

“Out @ BGSU” meets on Wednesdays from 7-8 p.m., but due to confidentiality, those interested must call 372-2081 for the location.

Vision is another outlet that students can turn to with their questions about sexual orientation and gender identity. The student-led support group provides a supportive environment to all members of the queer community at the University.

Vision’s general meetings are held every Tuesday and Thursday at 9 p.m. in the Women’s Center in 107 Hanna Hall.

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