LGBTQ students speak out

By Katy Nielsen

Coming out is a lifelong process author Daniel Allen Cox knows a lot about.

More than 30 people showed up at the Multicultural Affairs Center, 618 S. Michigan Ave. Building, on Oct. 11 to support National Coming Out Day and meet Cox, who led the discussion and read an excerpt from his most recent novel “Krakow Melt.”

National Coming Out Day was founded in 1988 by LGBT activists Robert Eichberg and Jean O’Leary.

“It is also October, the month of coming out,” said K. Bradford, coordinator for the LGBTQ office of Culture and Community.

The atmosphere was positive and encouraging because LGBTQ attendees and allies said they were excited to share coming out stories. Cox shared his experience first.

Raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, Cox was part of a religious group intolerant of the LGBTQ community. One night while he was bowling with friends, Cox turned to one of the girls and said he thought her boyfriend was attractive.

Consequently, when his friend returned home, she told her parents. By way of the church grapevine, Cox said a congregation elder heard about his comment.

“That night I got a call from the congregation elder who asked, ‘Are you a homosexual?’ By that time, I’d had a lot of sex and was pretty sure about it. So I said, ‘absolutely.’ To which he said I had a few options. I could disassociate myself with a letter or they would de-fellowship me from the church. I chose disassociation.”

Cox said coming out was sudden, but at the same time a relief. “I thought, ‘Yes! It’s over. I’m out.’ Then I found out I had many more coming outs to do in my life.”

Numerous people at the meeting said the first time an LGBTQ person comes out is a milestone in his or her life. It is an event he or she thinks about and plans.

Lisa Danielson, senior graphic design major, attended the meeting and said she recently came out to her mother. It was something she feared talking about with her mom for years.

“I prepared for a long time,” Danielson said. “I put myself in a mind-set to be ready for anything.”

When Danielson came out as bisexual to her mother, at first there were a few minutes of awkward silence before the conversation continued, she said.

“I told her this is something I’ve known since childhood, and then she understood,” Danielson said. “I am really close with my mom, so it was hard to hide this big secret from her.”

Danielson said there were times when she told her mom she was going on a date with a guy when she was really going out with a girl.

“It’s obviously going to be hard for my mom,” Danielson said. “People aren’t always going to understand; people are going to argue with you and debate and tell you you’re wrong.”

Attendees said knowing people who are opposed to homosexuality can make it difficult for LGBTQ teens to come out in their communities. Recent suicides among the gay teen community have increased awareness about gay rights issues.

“Every single time it’s happened it’s killed me,” said Richard Bidmead, senior arts, entertainment and media management major at Columbia. “The suicides are not a new thing; it’s always been happening. The new thing is people are talking about it.”

Six teens have committed suicide this month, which was sorrowfully addressed at the meeting.

“I don’t want this to be another situation where something has to happen in order for there to be a change; it scares me,” said Brandon Taylor-Sides, junior music major. “How do we get the message across that change has to happen now?”

Tragic events remind us of how we have to work together to create a powerful community at Columbia, said Mark Kelly, vice president of Student Affairs, who attended the meeting.

“No student at Columbia should ever feel embattled, isolated and despairing because of homophobic actions,” Kelly said.

In some parts of the world, people are killed for being openly gay

“There is so much fear in some countries,” Cox said. His most recent novel takes place in Poland and addresses homophobia. At the end of the meeting, Cox read a chapter from his book where the characters attend a pride parade.

“We have so many ways to express ourselves and embrace our many gendered versions,” Bradford said. “I feel honored to be here as we grow and change as a community.”

Columbia held a Coming Out Ball on Oct. 15 and also participated in Chicago-born “Savage Love” columnist Dan Savage’s YouTube campaign project titled “It Gets Better.”

The campaign speaks to gay teens, letting them know whether they are experiencing family rejection, bullying or suicidal thoughts, it gets better.

In addition to his homosexuality, Cox said he has come out about other aspects of his life, including his stutter and working as a gay pornography actor.

“Coming out never ends, it’s an ongoing process for me at least,” Cox said. “It gets easier, it gets better, but it certainly doesn’t end.