By Gianluca D’Elia
Rainbow flags flew high across the Campus Mall on Oct. 11 as part of National Coming Out Day, a national awareness day dedicated to recognizing the risk LGBTQ individuals take when they “come out” to their families and friends. The observation falls on the anniversary of the 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.
A group of nearly 50 students and faculty members gathered outside Daly’s Dining Hall during the 12:30 p.m. lunch rush for a small pride march hosted by Rider’s Spectrum Pride Alliance organization. The march passed the library and North and Ziegler Halls before circling back to Daly’s. As they paraded around campus bearing gay and transgender pride flags, students shared their own coming out stories — some had come out five years ago, some came out last year, some haven’t yet.
“My parents would kick me out if they knew,” one student quietly confided in another. Somewhere else in the crowd, another student told a friend the story of how he came out to his family in 2011.
“There are so many people who are afraid and who aren’t comfortable with who they are,” said Brea Rivera, sophomore behavioral neuroscience major and chair of the Student Government Association’s (SGA) equity and inclusion committee. “But when they see other people expressing themselves and being who they want to be without judgment, I think it’ll help them.”
Forty-two percent of LGBTQ youth report living in a community that does not accept this minority group of people, according to Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) most recent “Growing Up LGBT in America” study. Ninety-two percent say they hear negative messages about their sexual orientation from their schools, their peers or the internet, and 68 percent report hearing negative messages from elected officials. However, 75 percent of the adolescents surveyed said most of their peers don’t have a problem with them identifying as LGBTQ.
Factors such as fear, religious beliefs, strained family relationships and lack of community acceptance make it difficult for LGBTQ individuals to come out, according to HRC.
“It’s important to show support for those who have come out, in addition to those who have not yet done so,” said prevention education coordinator Susan Stahley. “National Coming Out Day is also a fun and free-spirited way to celebrate the freedom we have to be who we are at a time when it may not seem that it’s not celebrated.”
Students said having visible pride events on campus shows LGBTQ students and allies that there is support for them from fellow students and faculty.
“Having something like this tells people, ‘You’re welcome here, and this is a place where you can feel safe,’” said Paul Campbell, junior organizational psychology major. “And that’s a concern in a lot of different places, especially in this political climate, where I personally feel like my rights might be stripped.”
Some attendees of the march noted that Rider has been taking steps to ensure that the campus is rid of discrimination.
“Rider has always been really LGBTQ-friendly,” Rivera said. “And I think it’s going to be even more LGBTQ-friendly because we’re working so hard in SGA to make things inclusive, getting things like gender-neutral bathrooms and dorms — anything to be more inclusive for people who might not feel as included as they could be.”
Associate professor and librarian Melissa Hofmann, who marched along with the students, said it’s her “dream” to increase visibility and support for the LGBTQ community on campus. She played her part in making Rider inclusive by creating the university’s first research guide for LGBTQ studies, which can be accessed on the school’s online library guide.
“It’s important to see others like ourselves,” she said. “It’s still a brave act to be visible because LGBTQ-identified people are still othered and experience discrimination and violence. It helps to know we are not alone.”
The march was brief, and 20 minutes later, students dispersed across campus to go back to classes. However, the message of the event left an impact on those who marched.
“It helps those students who feel trapped, or that they’re not included,” Rivera said. “It encourages people to be who they want to be, to not be afraid to say it, and just be proud.”
The Trevor Support Center is a place where LGBTQ youth and their allies can find answers to frequently asked questions and explore resources related to sexual orientation and gender identity. Their 24/7 hotline can be reached at 1-866-488-7386