Event honors telling of coming out stories
For students who are part of the LGBT community, coming out is often a big deal. What most people don’t realize, though, is that coming out is an ongoing process.
“You don’t just do it once and you’re done and it’s a relief,” LGBTQ Program Coordinator Chris Jorgenson said. “There are subsequent moments in your life where you come out and its equally stressful and scary.”
National Coming Out Day has been observed since the 1980s, but Jorgenson started the event at Eau Claire last year. An alumnus of the university, Jorgenson said he came out 16 years go, and still tells his story often.
Tuesday marked the second anniversary of Eau Claire’s Coming Out Day, an event on the Campus Mall aiming to honor members of the LGBT community.
Jory Catalpa, a senior sociology major, said the event is great in the fact that it’s community-based.
“The biggest part about today is to raise awareness and visibility about not only how many queer students and faculty we have, but how many supporters, too,” Catalpa said. “People forget the allies are ostracized just as much.”
Jorgenson said this year he wanted a greater presence of resources for students.
“Last year we had, I think six, now we have 14,” he said. “We wanted offices and organizations, and not just the ones you’d expect.”
The event included booths from the Dean of Students, Career Services, the Eau Queer Film Festival and the College Free Thought Society.
The College Feminists, a progressive group on campus, also had a booth set up at the event. Litzy Nowobielski, a junior and member of the group, was happy to see the support of students, whether they were just stopping by, or sharing their story.
“Its so vital to be here for something like this,” Nowobielski said. “It’s definitely grown since last year, and it’s so cool to see so many people talking and coming out.”
The event featured a DJ to play music handpicked by Jorgenson in between speakers, and halfway through, campus a cappella groups performed.
Holly Bergman, a junior and member of Audacious, an all-female singing group spoke as an ally during the group’s set of songs.
She told the story of her older sister coming out to her family, and how it affected and changed the dynamic of her family.
“Sharing and accepting is what matters,” Bergman said on stage. “It’s what made our family more whole again.”
Jorgenson said stories like Bergman’s are the best and most valuable part of the event, making the day more personal bringing everyone together.
Among offices at the event was the Dean of Students, along with Associate Dean of Students Jodi Thesing-Ritter.
Thesing-Ritter said the coming out process can be complicated, and the office wanted to provide information about their services available to students, specifically transgendered students.
“We provide assistance for transgendered students going through official name and gender changes, helping them with the process of changing that information in the system,” Thesing-Ritter said.
A big part of that process includes working with faculty to make them aware that the student may be on their roster as a woman, but identifies as a man.
The office works with students to let professors know how to address the student, and how to be sensitive in the “hard to navigate” transitional period, Thesing-Ritter said.
Although there was no outward opposition during the event, Jorgenson said he is “under no illusions when it comes to those against this community.”
Despite that opposition, Jorgenson remains positive about the future. He said he believes the arc of history is on the side of the LGBT community.
“It’s about recognizing progress, without forgetting that there’s still a very long way to go.”