“Outober” draws visibility to queer issues with Coming Out Stories

Campus LGBTQ support groups are aiming to increase visibility this “Outober” as national attention is drawn to social pressures faced by queer youth.

By Rebecca Guterman

Campus LGBTQ support groups are aiming to increase visibility this “Outober” as national attention is drawn to social pressures faced by queer youth.

Posted by the Office of LGBTQ Student Life, the Coming Out Stories, a project to counter the social pressure put on queer youth with public displays of unity and support, will share the coming-out narratives of university community members.

The project is part of Outober, a series of events organized by the office of LGBTQ Student Life in recognition of LGBT History Month and National Coming Out Day, October 10.

LGBTQ Student Life Director Jeffrey Howard got the idea for the Coming Out Stories project from talking to students, staff, and alumni of the university, who expressed a desire for more visibility.

“It’s something that I’ve seen done in different forms in other places and it’s an idea I got from talking to people here and seeing that we need more visibility,” Howard said. “I think we have a very large queer community on campus.”

Twelve gay youths committed suicide in September, according to Howard, including a high-profile case at Rutgers University, a sign that LGBTQ individuals still face significant social pressure.

Howard said the U of C’s queer community will do its best to counter that in October, offering LGBTQ students, staff, and alumni the opportunity to submit their coming-out stories to inspire and comfort others who may feel alone.

Outober will also feature an annual performance called the Coming Out Monologues and anonymous, rapid-result HIV testing at 5710 South Woodlawn.

The Coming Out stories are displayed all over campus, including on posters in the LGBTQ student life office, on the Outober website, and on the UChicagoLGBTQ YouTube channel. They will soon have a permanent home on the Office of LGBTQ Student Life website.

Other LGBTQ groups around the country have started similar campaigns, including columnist Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better Project”, which started on September 22nd, a YouTube channel where people who have already come out record themselves explaining how their lives improved after facing bullying early on.

The project is aimed at young gay men and women who don’t have support groups like the Office of LGBTQ Student Life.

Howard, who hopes that the U of C’s Coming Out Stories will be useful to everyone who needs them, said it was important to put them on posters and on the Web. “Sometimes people feel isolated in general, not even just in coming out. Maybe someone will see the picture and see that person on campus and won’t feel so alone,” Howard said.

Twelve stories were posted on the Outober website as of press time, written by College students, graduate students, an alum, and a chaplain at the University hospitals. They tell stories that range from parents who already knew their child was gay to long struggles for acceptance among family and friends.

Howard’s story explains how hard it was to come out at “a somewhat conservative Christian college” where his roommate wasn’t accepting of his sexual orientation.

Though the process of coming out was initially traumatic—leading to serious depression—Howard writes that he found comfort in accepting friends and his parents, who, as it turned out, already had an idea of his orientation. “Why did it seem like I was always the last to know?” he asked.

The Coming Out Stories project will continue until the end of October.

The third annual Coming Out Monologues will share coming out narratives through informal performances, according to fourth-year Dan Forbush, a board member of Queer and Associates.

Last year the performances included not only gay performers, but performers who had identified as queer but ultimately “came out” as straight, Forbush said. “We want to increase awareness about the idea of coming out, whatever that may be,” Forbush said.

Fellow board member and second-year Nicholas Cassleman added that the audience can participate as well. “People in the audience at the end can say things. We encourage everyone to come because a lot of people are uninformed, especially in the non-queer community,” he said.

Howard said that although the plans for Outober were in the works prior to the twelve gay suicides in September alone, Outober came at a good time.

His office started Outober last year, with speakers, documentary screenings, and panels. He estimated that about 500 people participated in the events throughout the month.

About 250 people have participated so far this year, Howard said, noting that many more will attend lectures and read the coming out stories by the end of the month.