Over 80 students and community members came together Thursday night in the Michigan League to share and listen to anonymous and personal experiences of individuals coming out with their sexuality at the Stonewall Democrats event “Coming Out Speak Out.”
Stonewall Democrats is a subcommittee of the University of Michigan’s chapter of College Democrats that promotes education, transparency and action around LGBTQ-related legislation and aims to achieve equality for LGBTQ-identified people. Throughout the year, the organization plans and hosts events regarding the advocacy for LGBTQ rights and identities.
LSA sophomores Kallie Bernas and Tyler Eastman, the co-chairs of the subcommittee, were inspired to host the event on behalf of College Democrats after similar speak outs on social events took place on campus, like the Abortion Speak Out presented by the University’s chapter of Students for Choice last semester.
Eastman pointed to the current political climate in the United States and the fear in the future of LGBTQ rights under the current administration as the motivation for the event, as well as its importance.
“Right now, LGBTQ rights are at stake,” Eastman said. “We wanted to make sure that people had a safe space to express how harmful stories can be.”
Bernas, who was encouraged to join College Democrats by a friend, felt the need to run for the co-chair position based on her own experience of coming out, and expressed how she felt personally compelled to lead, even though she doesn’t identify as a natural-born leader.
“This is important work I need to be doing,” said Bernas. “My sexuality was very new to me and even coming to the University and accepting it had been very new and I had just come out at the end of senior year and felt that was the time for me to really start working towards changing policy and doing something tangible.”
LSA senior Lauren Harsh shared her own personal coming out story of when realized she was lesbian after attending a summer camp at the Methodist church she attended as a child in the months leading up to leaving for college.
Harsh went on to describe some of the mixed reactions she received from various groups of people she had in her life.
“When I was at the camp, I was really scared,” Harsh said. “It’s church camp, and the staff members starting a relationship together was frowned upon anyway, and that made me kind of distance myself from my friends, which I really hated that I felt like I had to do that.”
After, she described the immediate sense of belonging she felt when she arrived at the University in the fall.
“Once I drove up here to college, I dove head-first into all the gay shit,” Harsh said.“I’m out and proud now, but that doesn’t mean my story is over.”
Art & Design freshman Kevin Moore shared his personal experience of coming out as bisexual in a hyper-masculine environment on the west side of Detroit. In sharing his experience, he emphasized how coming out is a constant experience people in the community have to face, if they choose to.
“The thing about coming out is that it’ll never be a one-time thing,” Moore said. “You’re going to constantly come out to people that you are sharing a piece of you to someone, if you want to approach someone in that way. You do not have to approach people saying, ‘I am this way,’ because guess what, your sexuality is not your personality.”
He went on to offer some positive thoughts behind the idea of sexuality.
“The best thing about your sexuality is that it’s yours,” Moore said.
One of the most compelling stories of the night was told unscripted by a local high school senior attending Plymouth Canton Educational Park who shared a somber, yet insightful, story about the details of coming out first as bisexual and later as transgender.
El Hanley, who identifies as a transgender female, shared that, even though her experience of coming out as bisexual in middle school was met with overwhelming joy by her family, her experience of coming out as transgender in high school was the opposite.
“Coming out as trans is the most complicated thing on the planet,” Hanley said.
She expressed the fundamental difference between coming out as bisexual and trans, stating that coming out as bisexual or gay is more of an option, because they relate to a matter of who someone is interested in, where as coming out as trans is matter of physically visible changes.
In a more comical sense, she referenced the specific differences in interactions she shared after both of her experiences of coming out.
“When I came out as bisexual, a lot of people asked me if I wanted to have a three-way, and I got on with my life,” Hanley said.