National Coming Out Day

By Janice McDuffee

As the sun shined brightly, the cold wind blew two rainbow flags posted on the south side of the Illini Union last Thursday, turning the cheeks pink of those who gathered around them.
It was National Coming Out Day, celebrated every Oct. 11. This year’s rally was held by PRIDE and the Office of LGBT Resources on the Anniversary Plaza. As the day approached noon, the crowd began to fill out with University faculty members, students, church ministers, and friends.
Those participating in the rally mostly wore red shirts much like last year’s event. This year, the shirts featured a closed jack-in-the-box on the front, and on the back the box sprung open with a sign that read, “National Coming Out Day October 11.”
“The whole closet thing was overdone,” said Gabriel Tankersley, a member of PRIDE who sat behind the information table, draped with another rainbow cover.
Available on this table were numerous pamphlets and paper cut-outs of future events that were kept from blowing away by frayed sparkling weights. Among these was a pink pamphlet provided by the Office of LGBT resources that provided insight, and advice for those still in the closet and want to come out. It shared ways to deal with feelings of guilt or shame, and how to overcome these feelings and find support.
Joe Rybka, student and “sporadic PRIDE member,” said the rally’s purpose was to provide support for those who want to come out and to see how many people or faculty members are gay themselves or gay-friendly.
“It’s more beneficial to gay people because they can see the support, but it’s good for others too because it makes them see that we’re here,” he said.
The speakers at the rally talked into a microphone that sat between the two hoisted rainbow flags. Their voices resonated from the second floor speakers that hang on the Union’s brick wall.
William Blanchard of PRIDE opened the rally and introduced the other speakers. He spoke of progress in the last 20 years, and how today there are half a dozen LGBT organizations on campus who are receiving help from fraternities and churches.
Cris Mayo, a professor at the University and self-proclaimed “professional lesbian” was the first speaker. She recalled the kind of abuse gay people endure, such as having beer bottles thrown at them. She laughed remembering an Illinois specific object thrown in her direction: a corn cob. Her emphasis was working with the youth in the LGBT community.
“Let’s start thinking about the youth, and what it was like for us,” she said.
Michael Adee took the microphone next, a Presbyterian minister who caused a lot of controversy in the church as
a gay man. He spoke of his prompt into activism after seeing the hate that others held for LBGT people. He addressed the questions of those who want to come out such as, “will my parents still love me?”
“Give them a chance, and give them time,” he said.
Curt McKay, Director of the Office of LGBT Resources, was the last speaker before the microphone was opened to others in the rally.
“For everyone who is here, there are dozens more who are not, but want to be,” he said. “You are all welcome here, and belong here. You deserve to have a safe place to be yourself.”