University of Michigan alum Christopher Armstrong, the first openly gay Central Student Government president, gave a keynote speech on coming out as a part of a panel organized by the Spectrum Center on Monday night as part of Coming Out Week.
Armstrong told his own coming-out story, including what he experienced with his own family and then what he experienced when he came to the University.
“What if I told you I was gay? And (Armstrong’s mom) says, ‘Are you?’ I said yes and I broke down crying,” Armstrong said. “And I tell that because coming out can be really, really complicated. It’s not a perfect story for everybody and I hated telling that story for the longest time, and I still do, honestly. I came to the University and I was ready to be gay in every way. It was my gay agenda to be coming out to (everyone) that I possibly could.”
While a student at the University and student body president, Armstrong was subject of an anti-gay blog, run by then-Michigan Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell, which defamed Armstrong.
“Me and my community, we were suddenly being tested with this outing — where people were finding themselves having to interact with being outed,” Armstrong said. “And that power and privilege of coming out (being) taken away from them.”
Following the keynote speech, five students and alumni of the LGBT community, including Armstrong, gathered for a panel discussing coming out, allies and intersections of identities.
LSA freshman Juan Orozco was interested in the discussion of different identities and the representation of each as a Latino student.
“The intersectionality from being a brown person and also being queer was kind of cool to see,” Orozco said.
University alum Steph Parrish, who uses gender-neutral pronouns, discussed coming out and realizing their sexuality. Parrish realized they weren’t like the rest of their soccer team when they began to realize they were attracted to the girls on the team.
“I’ve always kind of known I was different, to use the cliche, both with my gender and my attractionality, but it really wasn’t until the very end of high school that I started to realize that there were words and language out there for people like me,” Parrish said. “I came to realize, wow I have a crush on half my team. That’s awkward. But I started to realize that’s a thing, that’s OK.”
The panelists talked about people who have supported them in their coming out, which varied from friends to parents to siblings. University alum S. Kerene Moore spoke about her sister, who is also gay, and how she helped her come out, especially when it came to their parents.
“It’s still important to me today to have this older sister that I can call and clear things with or talk to my parents for me because I’m not good with that,” Moore said. “And you know, I come from a very Christian household and I was actually president of my high school Christian club … but I still can’t have those conversations with my parents that she can because she’s just older and more willing to stand up to them.”