Helping Everyone Regardless of Orientation, the LGBT organization on campus, holds multiple events each October to celebrate LGBT History Month.
Events include celebrations for Bi Awareness Day, International Pronoun Day, Transgender Day of Remembrance and National Coming Out Day.
October has been celebrated as LGBT History Month since 1994 when Missouri high school teacher Rodney Wilson believed a month should be dedicated to celebrating and teaching LGBT history.
LGBT History Month, according to LGBThistorymonth.com, has since been endorsed by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Education Association.
HERO Vice President Brandon Hallock said the month is important to the LGBT community because it’s a learning opportunity.
“I think it is very important for people of the community to learn about the past of the community and movement,” Hallock said. “I also think it is very important to remember and share our own history in the community: how we were introduced, our own coming outs and how we have affected the community ourselves.”
October was selected as LGBT History Month to coincide with National Coming Out Day, which is celebrated Oct. 11.
According to the HRC website, National Coming Out Day has been held every year for 30 years on the anniversary of the second March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights Oct. 11, 1987.
The Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion hosted an information table Oct. 9-11 in the J.W. Jones Student Union to celebrate National Coming Out Day in collaboration with HERO.
HERO adviser Brittany Stegeman helped work the table all three days, which displayed a pride flag and offered an opportunity for students to write encouraging notes to those questioning or considering coming out.
“The goal is to bring awareness and remind all people that this process can be daunting for people within the LGBTQIA community,” Stegeman said. “Any note, even a, ‘You can do it,’ or a, ‘Don’t be afraid,’ message can make an impact when someone is in the process of coming out, or even a reminder to those who have that people are there to support.”
Coordinator of Equity Rachel Brooks--one of the primary organizers of the event--said information tables are a great way to engage with students, which is why DEI and HERO host several each year.
“We try to be present during high traffic times throughout the day, this we feel gives us the best opportunity to make contact with as many students as possible,” Brooks said. “The Student Union is consistently filled with students rushing from class to class, so why not take advantage of this location as a means for promotion but also in strengthening our ties as Bearcats.”
This year’s Coming Out Day table was inspired by last year’s table, but the organizers wanted to improve the original idea.
“Shyla Kallhoff brought up the idea for putting the notes directly on the flag,” Brooks said. “I thought that was brilliant, so we ran with it. Adam Gonzales, who is a coordinator for diversity and inclusion, helped in bringing this all together and took the lead on sharing the events on social media and for the door display.”
Table hosts handed out rainbow heart stickers Oct. 11. Wearing a sticker symbolized solidarity with members of the LGBT community, both in and out of the closet.
“Sometimes it’s hard to see the support around you, and I think even just to see all the people wearing the stickers is a really great reminder in our community that there are people that support them,” Stegeman said.
Junior Daph Bergren said showing support in a tangible way is important to LGBT people who are still in the closet and don’t know who will support them.
“I think it [the table] is really important because it’s going to show a lot of people that there are more people around them that support them than they think because people need to be so explicit with their acceptance of communities that are overlooked,” Bergren said.
Stegeman said a surprise to her while working the table was the overall excitement of students she interacted with.
“That was a big surprise to me, their willingness to write a note,” Stegeman said. “One thing we did ask when they were a little stumped as to what to write, we would prompt them and ask, ‘What if your best friend came out to you, or what if someone you loved came out to you, what would you want to say to them?’ and that really prompted some great responses.”
Brooks said this year’s turnout was better than last year’s. She said although National Coming Out Day has been celebrated for so long, it’s still an important occasion.
“I know that some may question as to why in 2018 do we still need to promote National Coming Out Day,” Brooks said. “To them I often say, it is just another day set aside to recognize that not everyone feels safe, or maybe struggling with their identity, and it serves as a way to show those individuals that there are people who care.”