Cal Poly’s Pride Center will celebrate National Coming Out Day in the University Union (UU) today.
Pride Center coordinator Jessica Cresci said she isn’t too concerned about people coming out on National Coming Out Day. More than anything, she wants people to join her to celebrate diversity and promote tolerance.
“It’s not so much about people coming out,” Cresci said. “It’s about raising awareness.”
There were 11 suicides in the past two months in the national lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersexual and ally (LGBTQIA) community, all between the ages of 13 and 21. Cresci said the suicides were due to discrimination and intolerance from their peers. To honor the deceased, there will be a candlelight vigil in the UU Plaza from 6 to 7 p.m. tonight.
“I don’t want to have a memorial because National Coming Out Day is a celebration,” Cresci said. “But I want people to know it’s an issue.”
In addition to the vigil, the Pride Center arranged to have the Washington Consulting Group, which specializes in human development workshops, to hold a workshop.
Dr. Jamie Washington, who heads the Maryland-based organization and has a doctorate in college student development with a concentration in multicultural education, will lead the workshop focusing on the intersections of racism and heterosexism in Chumash Auditorium tonight at 7 p.m.
Washington, who has promoted National Coming Out Day since its founding in 1987, said this year is special because LGBTQIA suicides are getting more media coverage and discrimination is becoming a more apparent issue.
Washington said he can’t know exactly what caused the recent suicides, but he wishes he could understand first-hand.
“I wish we could have talked,” he said. “Then maybe I could have understood; maybe I could have helped.”
Despite the recent influx, Washington said suicides like this aren’t uncommon.
“There’s a history of sexuality related suicides,” he said. “It’s just at the forefront of the media right now. But it’s really nothing new.”
Like Cresci, Washington encourages students to ask questions of the LGBTQIA community and to take advantage of opportunities to learn about sexuality-based rights issues.
Anyone attending the resource fair is encouraged to ask any questions they have, Cresci said.
The fair will include organizations from both on and off campus, like San Luis Obispo county’s chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and Cal Poly’s own Spectrum Club.
Spectrum is working to build a giant closet and will host a photo booth where students can come out, in a literal sense.
Electrical engineering junior Ryan Turner is involved with both the Spectrum Club and the Pride Center and said he has high hopes for an exciting Coming Out Day.
“It’s going to be really fun,” Turner said. “Last year I was really intimidated, but now I’m happy to be involved.”
National Coming Out Day is geared toward students who aren’t yet comfortable with getting involved. The day is dedicated to starting conversation, inspiring students and raising awareness — not just to coming out — Cresci said.
“We want to give students a chance to come and talk with us,” she said. “We want to get people thinking about people who are different from them.”
Additionally, Cresci said the Pride Center encourages students to share their stories year round.
“I have seen and met a lot of students who said this is the date they decided to come out on campus,” Cresci said. “I just want everyone to know that we are here, we have resources, and we can answer any questions you have.”
Aerospace engineering sophomore Corina Harvey is one of those students. After participating in National Coming Out Day, she said she felt inspired and went to a Spectrum Club meeting.
“Everyone was going around telling their stories of coming out, and I got really excited,” Harvey said. “So when they got to me I said, ‘This is my coming out story.’ It felt amazing.”
The Pride Center has seen an increase in participants over the past few years, Cresci said, but they welcome any new and interested students.
“It would be great to see our numbers double,” she said. “We have a solid group of 20 or so and I would love to see that grow.”
Cresci said Cal Poly is generally a welcoming and accepting campus, an observation that is reflected in student’s attitudes.
Environmental horticulture junior Jon McClain said that coming out at Cal Poly was a relatively simple feat.
“This is the easiest group of people to come out to,” McClain said. “I was totally intimidated at first but now I’m involved in everything possible.”
Cresci said there was a time when LGBTQIA students weren’t so well accepted in the Cal Poly community.
“Two years ago, there was a party in the crop house,” she said. “They hung a derogatory sign, noose and confederate flag. I’ve always felt safe on campus, but that was the one time I questioned that safety.”
She also recalled the 2008 elections, when Proposition 8 was on the ballot.
“Right before the election, people got pretty crazy,” she said. “Usually, people keep to themselves.”
Cresci hopes National Coming Out Day will not only celebrate tolerance, but will inspire others to come out of their shell and learn more.
“I feel like students walk around campus in a bubble. They don’t really know what’s going on around them,” she said. “National Coming out Day will hopefully get them talking, and get them listening.”
National Coming Out Day is about embracing who you are, Cresci said. But it’s also about embracing people who are different from you.
“Everyone is different, this is just one kind of difference,” she said. “So many people are scared of us, but we’re not scary.”
The National Coming Out Day resource fair will be in the UU from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m today.