With National Coming Out Day just over a week away, the Ross School of Business’s LGBTQ organization, Out for Business, hosted OUTx on Tuesday evening as part of Ross Coming Out Week. OFB sponsors Ross Coming Out Week annually, featuring events highlighting and supporting the LGBTQ community within the Business School. Michigan Business Women and the MBA Council cosponsored the TEDx-style event.

Business graduate students James Lee and Laura Malecky, the co-presidents of OFB, began the event with introductions. Malecky said she wanted the event to bring together LGBTQ individuals and allies to normalize conversations about coming out and help promote LGBTQ culture.

“The goal of today’s event was for people to share their stories to help others better understand beyond the label of LGBTQ, and to help build solidarity and build inclusive communities,” Malecky said. “And obviously this is the first step.”

The keynote speaker, Nathan Manske, discussed I’m From Driftwood, the non-profit he founded based on his experiences growing up as a queer individual in a small Texas town. 

I’m From Driftwood, now in its 10th year, is an online archive of stories from the LGBTQ community and its allies. The website features both written accounts and video stories, some of which Manske highlighted during the event. Manske attributed the name of his non-profit to Harvey Milk’s sign featured in the 1978 San Francisco Gay Pride Parade. Manske said he wants I’m From Driftwood to serve as a reminder to LGBTQ individuals everywhere they are not alone.

“One remarkable characteristic of spoken stories is that they actually synchronize the brains of the speaker and listener,” Manske said. 

Manske also spoke about I’m From Driftwood’s 50 State Story tour, during which he traveled to all 50 states to collect stories from LGBTQ people. Manske believes the importance of I’m From Driftwood lies in the essence of the shared community that’s created through the telling and sharing of stories. 

Following Manske’s presentation, three speakers took the stage to share their coming out stories. Each story received a standing ovation from the audience of around 150 students, faculty members and local community members. These stories highlighted the diverse experiences of coming out as LGBTQ as well as the importance of having a network of support both during and after the coming out process.

Business graduate student Georgia Cassady told The Daily after the event that she came to OUTx as an ally of the LGBTQ community and hoped to better understand some of the challenges LGBTQ individuals face when they decide to come out.  

“(It was great) to hear about the different ways that people came to terms with who they are, how they figured it out and then the different tactics and strategies they had for actually deciding it was time to come out and who to come out to,” Cassady said.

Much of the discussion during the panel focused on the importance of breaking down labels in order to make the Michigan community and society at large more inclusive. Steven Feder, vice president of events for OFB, also pointed to LGBTQ resources on the University of Michigan’s campus, such as the Spectrum Center, which seeks to promote a diverse, collaborative space on campus. 

Feder told The Daily he wanted Ross Coming Out Week to include more events, such as conversation-based events like OUTx. Feder added that events focusing on sharing stories are a better way to bring together the LGBTQ community and its allies, especially within the business world.

“I think that the people in this room will be future CEOs, CFOs, CMOs, heads of non-profits,” Feder said. “And for them to have a better understanding of the emotional intensities (of coming out) and what you deal with as a member of the LGBT community, I think that will make them better leaders.”

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