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September 21, 2023

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Acceptance shines as main concept throughout Coming Out Week

Most people don’t generally deal with stigmatization on a daily basis, but senior Tiffany Suscheck knows it well.

“We kind of think of [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transexual people] as their own— we think of ‘them,’” she said. “They’re their own group, they’re in their own sect, they hang out in this office. But no, I go to class just like you. I go to the same classes as you do, in fact.”

Suscheck is a student at the University who identifies as gay, and for her, combating this stigma has been a central theme in the past week, which has been dubbed “Coming Out Week” by many in the University LGBTQ+ community.

According to Tobias Spears, assistant director for LGBTQ+ programs, the week is a chance for the LGBTQ+ resource center to partner with various student organizations to promote visibility and acceptance within and toward the LGBTQ+ community.

Spears said the University organized the week around national Coming Out Day, which this year started October 12.

This year’s Coming Out Week has been organized by campus organizations Women Who Love Women, Vision, the LGBTQ+ resource center and FORCE. Events have been held throughout the week, including a comedy show Thursday night featuring Brooke Carbus, a panel on the relationship between religion and identity and a candlelight walk hosted by Women Who Love Women.

While all these events have different goals and concepts, one concept winds through them all: acceptance.

“Part of it is to allow [LGBTQ+] students who are not a part of the community to see that we’re doing programming and creating a campus where those students feel like they have multiple spaces to be in and to exist in,” Spears said.

Having safe spaces is something many take for granted, but it’s relevant to the LGBTQ+ community. Safe Zone Training was offered Wednesday night, a chance for allies of the LGBTQ+ community to learn how to create and foster places where people of any sexual identity or orientation are safe.

A 2013 poll of 1,197 LGBTQ+ adults by Pew Research Center suggests American anti-gay sentiment may be more common than previously thought. While 92 percent of respondents to the poll believed U.S. society had become more accepting in the past decade, 58 percent said they had been the target of jokes or slurs based on their sexual orientation.

Spears said he has found the University to be a place that is “affirming of gender and sexual minorities,” but he highlighted the negative connotations some still carry.

“I think there’s a lot of taboo around the lack of awareness,” Spears said. “I think the reason people don’t know a lot about [LGBTQ+] people is because of assumptions about, you know, LGBTQ+ being wrong or some sort of deficiency or pathology.”

In Suscheck’s opinion, visibility of the LGBTQ+ community could be better. After telling one of her classes on Monday that it was Coming Out Week, one student’s response surprised her.

“Coming out as what?,” asked the student.

“Gay. That he had somehow had no idea that I was gay, even though that’s 90 percent of what I talk about at any given moment,” Suscheck said. “I really think we’re doing a good job reaching [LGBTQ+] folks, I still think there’s a lot of work that needs to be done in reaching the straight folks.”

Events hosted this week have emphasized reaching many groups. University LGBTQ+ Center intern and Vision Marketing Chair Malcolm McAlpine attended the interfaith panel.

“The mix and mingle afterward was very good,” McAlpine said. “People got to meet different people of different faiths who also identify as something within the [LGBTQ+] community.”

For many of those involved, it’s this understanding of various communities and ideas that exemplifies Coming Out Week.

“There are varying communities on campus,” Spears said. “Coming out week provides a time for people to come out, no matter how they perform their gender, no matter how they understand their gender identity or their sexuality.”

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