More than 60 students gathered in the Michigan League for the second-ever Coming Out Speak Out, an open-mic event for the LGBTQ+ community.
The event was hosted by Stonewall Democrats, the LGBTQ+ issue committee of College Democrats at the University of Michigan. The first Coming Out Speak Out was hosted in 2017.
To begin, LSA senior Colleen Grogan and LSA freshman Neil Jain, Stonewall Democrats co-chairs, introduced the event, explaining it was a space for members of the LGBTQ+ community to voice their story and stand in solidarity with those who have had different coming-out stories. Grogan and Jain emphasized there is no generic coming-out story and expressed coming out is a lifelong process.
Many speakers spoke about experiencing confusion and guilt as they came to understand their identities. Several discussed doubts they faced in feeling they had to conform to expectations of gender and sexuality in a heteronormative society. Others spoke of believing they were straight because they did not fit common LGBTQ+ stereotypes.
In sharing their coming out experiences, some described positive reactions and expressed gratitude for supportive communities. Others recalled negative aspects, voicing how they were not yet comfortable discussing their sexuality with certain family members and friends. Some voiced they received skepticism, disbelief and denial from family and friends. Several expressed suffering mental health issues such as depression and experiencing suicidal thoughts. Others shared they faced verbal and physical abuse from family and experienced threats of being put in the foster system and homelessness.
A few speakers highlighted the importance of recognizing the intersection of sexuality and race, explaining individuals belonging to LGBTQ+ and POC communities experience higher rates of mental illness and violence.
In an interview with The Daily after the event, College Democrats Chair Ruby Schneider, an LSA junior, discussed the importance of creating a space for the LGBTQ+ community to share their experiences.
“It’s really important to provide a space for queer folks on campus to be able to share out, hear from others and be comfortable with the identities and where they’re at in their coming-out process,” Schneider said.
Grogan expressed she was pleased with the audience participation and story diversity.
“I was very pleased with the participation of people in the audience,” Grogan said. “We weren’t sure people would be willing to put themselves in this really vulnerable position, but people were willing and able. And I think we had a lot of diversity of voices, in experience and background, which is really important when talking about coming out since there is not one coming-out experience.”
LSA senior Kallie Bernas, former co-chair of Stonewall Democrats, expressed she is happy to see how the event has grown since the first time it was hosted.
“It’s really interested to see how things have grown over time,” Bernas said. “We were pulling teeth at the first one, and people were a little bit timid … Hearing one person talking about how the first event inspired him to come out was really powerful. And it just felt like the atmosphere in that room was like family, everyone could relate to bits and pieces of the story, so I felt really strengthened and really proud to be a member of this community.”