In honor of National Coming Out Week, Intergroup Relations and the Spectrum Center hosted an open dialogue Tuesday during which 20 University and local community members discussed their experiences with perceptions surrounding sexuality.
Rackham student Chelsea Noble, events and programs graduate coordinator at the Spectrum Center, said the event aimed to curate a conversation on campus about the different journeys of people from divergent backgrounds.
“As we were planning for National Coming Out Week, we were trying to engage a broader community around conversations of coming out and being out,” she said.
During the dialogue, James Downey, an Ann Arbor resident, discussed how they recently asked their co-workers to use they/them pronouns. Downey said they faced difficulty in the transition to a different pronoun despite their co-workers normally stating support of the LGBTQ community.
“That was met with somewhere between tepidness and outright resistance,” Downey said. “It is very costly to really correct people. Fighting that pronoun fight or just fighting to be seen is something that I think that a lot of us are going through.”
During the dialogue, students also shared stories of their experiences with employers, colleagues, friends and others who had assumed they are of certain identities, whether or not they are accurate.
The event began with an overview of community guidelines, which organizers said were essential to ensure the conversation remained respectful. These guidelines included a stipulation to prevent the devaluation of another student’s beliefs and to expect a lack of closure, meaning participants should be comfortable without reaching a substantive answer to the conversation.
LSA junior Max Cornblath, one of the event facilitators for IGR, said he believes their purpose is to engage students, faculty and staff in conversations where they have the opportunity to learn from others.
“I personally see my role as a facilitator as being there to guide a conversation and provide a safe space for people to share their experiences,” he said. “Also welcoming disagreements and working through those in a productive way that results in learning for everyone in the room.”
One of the facilitators, Social Work student Erica Watson, the policy and advocacy graduate coordinator for the Spectrum Center, said she appreciated the discussion because it allowed students to understand the significance of perceptions.
“This event is really nice because it gives people a space to come and process the experiences they are having around being queer or not queer,” she said. “Thinking about the ways that we perceive one another in our queerness and how we are perceived.”
LSA senior Ariana Headrick, who attended the event, said she believes events like this one are impactful because they allow students to learn about the different experiences of their peers.
“I think these spaces are important because they provide the forum for people to explore their own experiences and also gain perspective from listening to other people,” she said. “That process is what generates a deeper understanding to what is actually going on in the world around us.”