Jamison Guice, Campus Carrier features editor
Jana Morning, Campus Carrier reporter
“Coming out of the closet” is a metaphor that describes when LGBTQ+ community members disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity. Even though the term itself implies that humans are cisgendered heterosexuals since community members are expected to announce their sexuality or gender identity, the act of coming out often manifests into a personal celebration of the authentic self. Oct. 11 is National Coming Out Day (NCOD) which is a holiday specifically designated for anyone wanting to join the LGBTQ+ community that may need a support system. A day of love and celebration, NCOD fosters a safe environment for new members wanting to join the community while also allowing members to reflect on their own coming out stories.
There are various resources on campus, such as the Student Diversity Initiatives office and LISTEN, Berry’s official LGBTQ+ club, that provide information and community for anyone struggling or wanting information about the community. LISTEN faculty advisor Christina Bucher said LISTEN actually began in 2003 when a group of primarily straight students went through the official application process, but it was ultimately rejected by the Board of Trustees. However, it was approved in 2012 by President Steve Briggs.
Bucher said the name, LISTEN, was chosen because the group’s goal is to provide a safe place to share and listen to LGBTQ+ experiences on campus. She said it is important for students to have a voice and to be heard by their classmates, faculty and staff.
“There’s still a real need for a safe space,” Bucher said. “For LGBTQ-plus students, there’s a need for support, and there’s a need for students to find one another.”
Since coming to Berry in 1994, Bucher said it has been a long and painful fight to get an official student group recognized on campus. She was a part of various iterations of LGBTQ+ groups on campus before LISTEN became an official student-led group in 2012.
“There was a real urge and desire for campus support,” Bucher said. “I think the primary reason [for LISTEN] is that it’s a support system for LGBTQ-plus students and their allies.”
Bucher says it is important to know the history behind LISTEN and its predecessors to truly understand the struggle it has been to get the attention of the student body and staff.
National Coming Out Day is an opportunity to spread awareness and grab the Berry community’s attention since it designates a specific day to celebrate the queer community. Bucher describes NCOD as a concentrated moment for those who are comfortable and feel safe to come out, to do so.
“Coming out isn’t something you just do once,” Bucher said. “If you’re a part of the LGBTQ-plus community, it’s something that never goes away. You’re always meeting new people and you’re always part of an organization. But it’s a day where you can stand up or you can post on social media or you can say, look, you know, I’m gay and I’m proud or I’m bisexual and I’m proud, or whatever.”
Bucher said NCOD is a time to build community and express the importance of showing the world that being gay is okay. She also said that it helps show that there are LGBTQ+ people all around, and the key to progress is visibility, awareness and representation within the Berry community.
For LISTEN co-president, senior Rachel Heiter, NCOD is a special day that allows someone to reintroduce themselves to the world. She said she imagines it as taking down a metaphorical curtain that has been hiding the real you. Even though she did not come out on a previous NCOD, Heiter said her experience was freeing since she was finally able to shed the anxiety of keeping a part of herself secret.
“I think that the really important thing about National Coming Out Day is just that freedom to be yourself and that ability to shed any stress or anxiety you’ve been feeling otherwise,” Heiter said.
Coming out is more than just an individual experience, Heiter said. It impacts the community around you like friends and family, especially depending on their reaction. Living on a small campus does not allow for a large LGBTQ+ demographic, so NCOD allows a person to become a visible and approachable community member.
“I think that tangible aspect is especially important on a small campus, especially on a religious, small campus for things like visibility and making yourself vocally heard is really important,” Heiter said.
Co-president of LISTEN, junior Kalista Shields, said some students may not understand the importance of coming out for LGBTQ+ people since they are not a part of the community. So, it can be really hard for a person to understand why a safe space may be needed. She said the first time a person comes out it is important to make them feel safe and comfortable.
“Firstly, don’t pressure them into coming out if you suspect anything because that can be really intimidating,” Shields said. “But if someone does come out to you, just tell them that you love them and you accept them and that you know you’re there for them, and you’re not going to reject them because of their sexuality or gender identity.”
LISTEN is a campus resource for anyone interested in learning about the LGBTQ+ community. Meetings are held every Thursday from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. via Zoom, and the link can be found on the club’s Instagram page, @bc_listen.
Shields mentioned LISTEN meetings are anonymous. Only gender pronouns are asked for, however, they are not required. So, whether you are a straight ally or “still in the closet,” you are welcome.