This week, the USC community plans to support the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population on campus by observing National Coming Out Week, which includes National Coming Out Day on Thursday.
National Coming Out Day was founded in 1988 by psychologist Robert Eichberg and Jean O’Leary, then the head of the National Gay Rights Advocates. Because the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights was held on Oct. 11 the preceding year, the 11th was chosen as a day to raise awareness for, and celebrate, LGBT communities.
The celebration was initially a single civil awareness day, but has now grown to include the entire week. In some places, such as at USC, the full month of October is celebrated as LGBT Heritage Month.
The USC LGBT Resource Center offers various events, assemblies and speakers for students to learn more about the LGBT community throughout October. The events will highlight the history of the community while providing a safe campus environment for anyone who is struggling with their sexuality.
“At any university, it’s significant and important for people to be able to be expressive of who they are,” said Karen Tongson, associate professor of English and gender studies. “To explicitly make a gesture toward acceptance, visibility and pride is an important thing.”
Tongson said it is not the act of coming out, but the creation of a welcoming environment, that is important during National Coming Out Week.
“Not everyone feels it’s necessary to come out or make a statement of coming out,” she said. “I think it’s important to create a nurturing environment for those that feel it’s important to come out, but also to be respectful of people who don’t want to participate in labeling whatever is important to them and who they love and how they feel.”
In addition to helping people feel more acceptance, the week will draw attention to the political struggles of LGBT individuals. According to Professor Larry Gross, an expert in LGBT studies and politics, National Coming Out Week will serve to attract attention to LGBT individuals’ lack of rights.
“The point of this event is to bring attention to an often invisible minority by identifying oneself as LGBT, often to folks who wouldn’t otherwise have known this,” Gross said. “Despite enormous changes in the situation of LGBT people in this country, we remain a readily available political target and this is due in part to general lack of visibility. Also, the lack of basic civil rights suffered by gay people … is due in part to pervasive invisibility. ‘Coming out’ has long been a central tactic of LGBT liberation for this reason.”
USC’s Queer and Ally Student Assembly will decorate Trousdale Parkway and other busy walkways with colored banners to symbolize acceptance and respect for USC’s LGBT community. Jaime Westendarp, a sophomore majoring in business of cinematic arts, is supportive of the display.
“As an ally of the LGBT community myself, it’s really refreshing to see that our school is such a supportive and accepting community,” Westendarp said. “It’s just a nice reminder that people care.”
Other students, though not personally involved in the LGBT cause, feel that having a national day to celebrate the LGBT community is important.
“Designated days show what’s important in a society,” said Lila Scott, a senior majoring in film production. “Although it’s been a somewhat tumultous time in society for gay people, it’s great that there is a day set aside for celebrating their identity.”
Coming out week events include seminars and speaker series, including Models of Pride, an all-day youth conference sponsored by the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center’s LifeWorks Mentoring. QuASA will take an active role in the week’s events, sponsoring the Empowerment Series, which consists of four seminars for each segment of the LGBT community.
This year, social media will play a crucial role in the promotion of respect and acceptance of LGBT individuals. The LGBT Resource Center has formed the Ally Project, which asks people to do something very simple — update their profile pictures on Facebook to demonstrate acceptance. Participants will take pictures of themselves holding a sign reading, “I am an ally,” and display it as their Facebook profile picture.
Vincent Vigil, the director of the LGBT Student Resource Center, stresses how such a simple action truly can make a difference in someone’s struggle to accept their sexuality.
“Little things like this can go a long way,” Vigil said. “Imagine if you have 800 Facebook friends, and one of those friends is struggling with their sexuality or questioning themselves. They might feel like they’ll be able to talk to the person who put that picture up, and then they won’t feel so alone.”
Jordyn Holman and Alexis Driggs contributed to this report.