By Sierra Lammi
On Wednesday, Oct. 11, the nation celebrated National Coming Out Day to support members of the LGBTQ+ community coming out with their sexual identity.
There are many different sexual identities on the CSB/SJU campuses, and in honor of National Coming Out day four CSB/SJU students shared their stories of what it was like coming out to friends, family and members of the CSB/SJU community.
CSB sophomore Sophia Rossini first came out as pansexual to her current boyfriend of two years. Pansexual is defined as an attraction to people of any sex or gender; men, women and transgender men and women.
“I don’t feel heterosexual, but that is how people perceive me because I have a boyfriend,” Rossini said. “I have been attracted to girls too.”
Rossini feels frustrated that she often explains her sexual identity to people who see her as straight.
“It feels like I have to do a lot of justifying,” said Rossini. “But there is more to being attracted to someone than gender,” Rossini said. “You fall in love with personalities or smiles or hair colors; not genitals.”
In addition to this justification there is often a fear that goes along with coming out. SJU junior Clayton Gunnarson, who identifies as gay, explains that with coming out there is always a fear of not being accepted. He “feels lucky” that his experiences have been positive, especially since he values his Catholic faith.
In a Catholic middle school, Gunnarson’s class discussed puberty, and while his middle school mentioned that some people are attracted to the same gender, they would grow out of that phase.
“I was a little nervous to come to SJU because it was Catholic and my faith is important to me,” Gunnarson said. “But first semester of my first year really opened my mind and made me confident of who I was; you can be gay and still be loved by the church. Over winter break I went home and started telling people, and then told people here [at CSB/SJU]. It’s been amazing, and everyone has been supportive.”
SJU sophomore Kyle Mack experienced similar support coming out to his family and friends as gay.
“I texted my dad and my stepmom that I had something to say, and that I was sort of nervous about it,” Mack said. “But after I told them, my dad asked me what I was so nervous to tell them.”
Mack’s friends at CSB/SJU and family back home have been a large support system, and so far he has “not had a negative experience coming out.”
While Mack has had a positive experience with coming out, he recognizes that not everyone has that.
“I know that there are people here at CSB/SJU who are afraid to come out and don’t want to,” Mack said. “For me personally, after I came out I finally felt like I could be myself and no one cared [that I was gay].”
Coming out in college took a little longer for CSB senior Ellie Brewers, who “is not straight.” She first had a girlfriend in high school, and told her close friends. When Brewer’s parents heard about her girlfriend from
someone else they were not super supportive at first. Brewers’s parents found out that she had a girlfriend the week before she started college at CSB her first year.
“It took a while for me to re-come out to people in college,” Brewers said. “As a first-year I didn’t want to be that person who was different. I waited so long partly because of the way my parents reacted at first and since this is a Catholic school I was worried that I might run into that reaction again.”
Brewers had lived in a conservative part of Ohio that was less accepting of her sexuality, and she worried that it might be a similar atmosphere here at CSB/SJU, but Brewers has found the community here to be more welcoming.
However strong the CSB/SJU community is, some students agree that there is always more that can be done to make others feel more comfortable.
Rossini believes that faculty can do more to identify classrooms as a safe space for students of all backgrounds.
“Sometimes I worry about expressing my opinions in class, so professors could do more to make it clear that classrooms are a safe space to speak,” Rossini said. “We also need to differentiate more between opinions and hate speech.”
Gunnarson hopes that he can be a resource for others who may be struggling to come out at CSB/SJU.
“If anyone is struggling to come out I hope they see me as a confidential resource or mentor,” Gunnarson said.
Gunnarson further states that members of the community should stop using derogatory terms such as ‘fag’ or ‘gay’ when describing things; he even heard one of the security officers on the Link say something along the lines of “that’s so gay.”
Brewers wishes that more people on campus would acknowledge the fact that there are many students here in the LGBTQ+ community, and for those struggling to come out to know that they are not alone.
While these four students shared their experiences with coming out as being more positive than negative as Mack puts it, there are still people, both in the CSB/SJU community and elsewhere, that struggle with it.
Professor of Theology Kari-Shane Davis Zimmerman recognizes that coming out is an individual experience for all people and cannot be generalized.
“I don’t want us to generalize on what it’s like to be gay or lesbian or transgender because race and social class likely play a role in people’s ability to feel comfortable with coming out,” Davis Zimmerman said.
Brandyn Woodard is the director of International and Intercultural Student Services (IISS) as well as the faculty advisor for People Representing the Sexual Minority (PRISM), a club on campus to recognize and
support LGBTQ+ issues. He is aware of the different experiences that people can have coming out.
“In many communities of color talking about LGBTQ+ issues, let alone being [in the LGBTQ+ community], is still considered taboo and there is still some marginalization within communities of color towards the LGBTQ+ community,” Woodard said. “As a result they have a few obstacles to overcome where they are looking at their race or ethnicity and their sexuality. To navigate their sexuality and their race in the context of CSB/SJU is a little more complex for them because they don’t know with whom they can speak or reach out to.”
Woodard makes it clear that he is a resource for people who might be struggling with these issues, as is PRISM. Additionally, the Centracare Clinic in St. Cloud that has added a gender and sexuality center to help people struggling with coming out.
“For allies, keep being allies, use inclusive language and correct yourself when you make heteronormative comments,” Woodard said. “If you are bothered by this, we are asking you to remember that each person here came to be a part of the community just as much as you did, so just be respectful and kind.”
FEATURE PHOTO: JILLIAN SCHULZ• [email protected]