By: Dominic Sanfilippo—Staff Writer
In her 1986 autobiographical account “All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes,” famed author and poet Maya Angelou wrote, “The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”
No matter who you are or where you come from, going to college is a journey from one kind of home to another, where a sense of belonging is crucial.
Certainly, that journey of higher education is about expanding intellectual horizons and learning new skills in classrooms, study sessions and internship sites. In another sense, however, the college experience is also about embracing one’s self, fostering relationships and discerning personal paths forward in search of a place in the world to call home.
On Oct. 14, Spectrum, UD’s gay-straight alliance on campus, recognized an important part of that journey for some UD community members with their annual National Coming Out Day celebration at the Art Street Amphitheatre.
The event was open to the broader Dayton community and celebrated both the university’s LGBTQ community and allies through a cookout and an open microphone session sharing stories, according to the group’s Facebook page.
The event marked the nationwide National Coming Out Day, which is celebrated annually Oct. 11.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, the celebration is recognized on that date in homage to the 1987 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, when over half a million people flooded the streets of the nation’s capital in solidarity and protest for further recognition and protection of the country’s LGBTQ community.
“[National Coming Out Day] is always one of the best events, I think, because we have the opportunity to create a safe space for students to share their stories and receive support,” said Delanie Harrington, Spectrum’s vice president. “My favorite moments are when students share for the first time, especially when it’s something they’re still trying to figure out, because it makes me proud that we’ve created a space for students to feel completely comfortable.”
“National Coming Out Day highlights the issues that LGBTQ people face and allows students to show their support for the LGBTQ community here at the university,” SGA President Mike Brill added. “The stories I heard at ArtStreet were inspiring and empowering.”
These issues LGBTQ individual face are common to campuses across the country—grade schools and universities. According to a 2014 report from Mental Health America, LGBTQ youth and students often have to deal with various levels of hostility, bullying and discrimination throughout their educational careers.
As reported in Flyer News in August, Student Development recently created the university’s first-ever LGBTQ support services graduate position in Student Development to serve the UD LGBTQ community.
The role is currently held by UD alumna Laura Gentner, who was hired after a months-long process of research, consultation and hiring that stemmed from a March 2014 Student Government Association resolution calling on the university to provide more LGBTQ-specific support.
As she reflected on Coming Out Night, Harrington pointed to a deep sense of community in marking the event’s importance.
“It’s an important holiday because it helps LGBTQ students to bond in a very important way, even if they’re not publicly out, as well as find pride in who they are,” Harrington said.
“Some of these stories shared on [this night] are positive and some are not, but everyone understands one another and is able to find community in the truest sense of the word.”
Spectrum holds open meetings on Tuesday nights in KU 312 at 7 p.m. and is looking forward to planning more events throughout the year, including an inclusive semiformal, according to Harrington.
“There are also events at other schools that we let our members know about that we may not organize as Spectrum events…[but] they can attend if they wish,” Harrington noted.
The next Ally training will take place on Wednesday, Nov. 4 from 5—9 p.m. in VWK Main. Registration is available on the Counseling Center’s webpage.