Campus celebrates National Coming Out Day

This year’s National Coming Out Day was celebrated on campus Monday by students, staff, community members and Florina “Flo” Kaja of Oxygen’s “The Bad Girl’s Club.” Kaja and other speakers at the event addressed the current spike of highly publicized Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender, or LGBT, suicides associated with bullying.

Coming Out Day is a national event celebrated every Oct. 11 since 1988 to commemorate the 1987 LGBT March on Washington, which opened the door to the push for LGBT rights.

“Coming out is an intensely personal decision with serious repercussions,” said William Blanchard, President of PRIDE, a registered student organization on campus that actively supports homosexuality and bisexuality in the campus community.

Blanchard said the purpose of Coming Out Day is not something to force students to come out, but rather to demonstrate community acceptance. He said that, in light of the recent, highly publicized LGBT suicides, it is especially important to let others know that there are people and places that can provide council and support.

Event organizers said this year’s celebration came with added weight because of the string of recent suicides in high school and college-aged gay teens.

Kaja, a celebrity advocate for LGBT awareness, spoke about being an openly bisexual woman in an Islamic-Albanian family, and how the importance of honesty with oneself and the community can only help the cause of supporting LGBT persons.

“I don’t understand why there should even be an issue with being gay,” Kaja said, “It’s 2010; we’re liberated. We’re in college. We’ve got education.”

Kaja said she feels that the main obstacle facing today’s LGBT community is those in power, politically and otherwise, who are trying to hold them back from being themselves.

“They’re just uneducated about it, being gay, being bisexual.” she said, “How, I don’t know, cause we’ve been around for centuries.”

In an interview after she spoke at the rally, Kaja confided that the LGBT suicides was a tough subject for her. She said that she remembers when her friend felt the pressures of his family’s physical abuse to “beat him straight.” Such pressure is what Kaja said she hopes to combat.

Josh Pagan, political chair of PRIDE, was in charge of organizing the rallyand contacted Kaja to speak.

“Typically, when we have LGBT speakers on this campus, they tend to be gay, white males, and we really wanted to get someone who was completely not that.” Pagan said, “So a bisexual Muslim Albanian woman is basically the epitome of diversity. Plus, I’m a huge fan of The Bad Girl’s Club, so Flo immediately popped into my head.”

The National Coming Out Day Rally was co-sponsored by PRIDE, Bi Pride and the Women’s Resource Center. The LGBT Resource Center and the Urbana-South Straight-Gay Alliance lended further support.