Campus groups ease coming out

By Nick Escobar

Coming out is one of the hardest challenges a gay or bisexual individual can go through. But there are groups and services available at the University to help.

According to the Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns (LGBT), the coming out process is something that LBGT individuals have to go through many times during their lives. They often have to come out to themselves, family, friends and others they meet during life.

Staff members of the office recommend coming out so that LGBT individuals feel more positive about themselves and do not have to hide who they are.

The University’s counseling center offers an anonymous process-oriented therapy group for gay and bisexual men that meets on Monday nights and is co-led by clinical counselors Rene Monteagudo, Ph.D, and Kuanwu Lin, Psy.D.

“It’s a good way for someone to learn about themselves, how they are in a relationship and how to come out,” Monteagudo said.

The group atmosphere is serious and group members dictate the topics for discussion. In addition to sharing stories about coming out and problems they may be having, members also discuss sexually transmitted infections (STIs), body image and psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety.

“It helps normalize feelings,” Monteagudo said. “It gives them a safe space, and they are able to process information with people who have had the same experiences.”

Confidentiality is one of the main aspects of the group. Members are not to contact group members outside of the meetings or acknowledge each other outside of group.

“It’s not a place to make friends,” Monteagudo said. “Group members must respect that.”

The maximum number of members is eight. Monteagudo said the group has never met the full number and currently has six members. The group runs year round, including summer sessions.

Like every group service the counseling center offers, students must first meet with a counselor to determine which group would be most beneficial to their needs. While individual counseling is limited to a set number of meetings, group therapy is a long-term service provided by the University.

Unlike the counseling center’s group, the student-led Coming Out Support Group (COSG) has more of a social atmosphere but still places assistance and support for it members as its top priority.

The group meets once a week to help gay and lesbian students with coming out in addition to providing a space for discussion on a wide range of topics. They discuss issues dealing with sexual identity and offer support for anyone who is currently going through the process of coming out.

Sara Clemons, senior in LAS and co-facilitator last year, said the group discusses how to come out to parents and coming out in the workplace, among other things.

The support group, like the counseling centers, relies on the experiences of others to help members feel more comfortable with sharing their own stories.

Clemons added that the group would have been beneficial to her had she been a member when she came out.

Victor Benitez, co-facilitator of the group and junior in LAS, said the attitude change in people is visible after they have come to a few meetings and have really connected with the group.

“People are hesitant to come to group alone,” Benitez said. “You had to work hard to get them to come and feel like part of the group.”

Benitez said people might have the perception that COSG is not for them because they are already out. But he said coming out is a never-ending process in which new issues arise all the time. Heterosexual friends of LGBT students are also encouraged to attend.

The COSG meets every Thursday night from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Office of LGBT Concerns, 1401 W. Green St.

“People who are coming to terms with their sexual-gender and identity (need to know) how to better deal and understand what they’re going through,” Benitez said.