Elizabeth Chamberlain remembers transferring to Cal Poly in 2008 not knowing how to come out to her roommates, or what she was supposed to say or do.
Coming out is so much more complex than people think, and there are not a lot of resources available at Cal Poly to help with the process, architecture senior Chamberlain said. So she decided to create a documentary called “Coming Out at Cal Poly.”
There are a lot of people questioning their sexuality or closeted who would like to take advantage of the resources the Pride Center has to offer, but are afraid of being identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT), Chamberlain said. She said as a result, they won’t go near the Pride Center.
“There just aren’t many resources for coming out,” Chamberlain said. “That is a basic thing that a Pride Center should have.”
Chamberlain has been researching how to come out at Cal Poly since 2010 — she decided in September 2011 to turn her research into a documentary. There has been a need for resources about coming out, and creating a video that will be accessible online is a way to meet that need, Chamberlain said.
“This documentary is focused on Cal Poly, because there are so many different micro cultures that to try and do a blanket statement about ‘this is what it is like to be gay’ doesn’t even make sense,” Chamberlain said. “It has to be specific to this area if it is going to make a difference to people who are in this area.”
The documentary has interviews from students, faculty and administrators, including Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong, Chamberlain said.
In the documentary, students talk about their experiences coming out and how it feels to be open at Cal Poly, and faculty speak about the environment at Cal Poly, landscape architecture freshman Nathaniel Abrea said. Some even include their own personal stories on dealing with people coming out and being open and accepting to it, Abrea said.
“Coming out at Cal Poly can be hard, because even though it is a big university, it still feels pretty small,” Abrea said. “You meet a lot of people, but then those are the people you see every day. So I think the idea of having your identity spread around so fast can be scary, because you never know how people are going to react.”
The documentary will be helpful to those not sure how to come out at Cal Poly or what to expect, Abrea said. The documentary will also help people open up to the idea of showing how accepting they are, he said.
There are people who knew they were gay in high school but didn’t come out to themselves, their friends and their family until late in their Cal Poly career, said Jennifer Pont, a biochemistry senior who appears in the documentary.
“That is just denying who you are and hiding yourself, and people shouldn’t have to do that,” Pont said.
The documentary could become a catalyst for change, Pont said.
“Even if only four or five people have an eye-opening experience, that is still four or five people who will pass it on to their friends, or to their family and children,” Pont said.
If people who don’t understand what it is like to be gay would ask questions and figure it out, it would help get rid of a lot of the ignorance that is faced by the LGBT community, Chamberlain said.
For the presidential standpoint, Chamberlain visited Armstrong in his office and asked him to appear in her documentary. He agreed and was interviewed.
In the documentary, Armstrong details changes he is making to the campus to make Cal Poly more welcoming to diversity, as well as his own experiences coming from a small, conservative town and befriending a lesbian couple.
Armstrong started out in a place where woman were not allowed to speak out in church, Chamberlain said.
“Then if you fast forward through this huge process and journey he and his wife became friends with a lesbian couple, and were helping them work through their emotional trauma after one of the women changed her gender,” Chamberlain said. “That change in attitude is like a complete 180.”
The documentary demonstrates that someone can go from not having experience with the LGBT community at all to being a true, supportive “ally.” That inspires hope, Chamberlain said.
The goal of this documentary is to inspire in-depth conversation because society doesn’t really understand very much about the LGBT community, so most can’t begin to have a complete understanding of the coming out process, Chamberlain said.
“So I hope this documentary will open up a dialogue that will encourage a better understanding amongst people who are LGBT and people who are not,” Chamberlain said.
This article was written by Bethany Schmidt.