In celebration of the 17th annual National Coming Out Week,
about 100 students and supporters gathered on the Diag Friday to
honor those already out and to provide an opportunity for
participants to declare their sexual identities for the first
time.

Mira Levitan
LSA senior Brian Hull introduces keynote speaker English Prof. Ralph Williams Friday at a National Coming Out Week rally on the Diag coordinated by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender commission of the Michigan Student Assembly. (Peter Schottenfels

The rally, coordinated by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and
Transgender commission of the Michigan Student Assembly, heralded
several on-campus events throughout the current week. Toward the
end, participants walked through a makeshift, freestanding closet
door and affirmed their sexual identity.

“I remember what it was like, for those still struggling.
It feels like it’s never going to get easier,” said
Kelly Garrett, a speaker at the event and assistant director of the
Office of LGBT Affairs, which co-sponsored the event. “I want
to send a message out to all those still struggling. It does get
easier. Every step you make is important.”

English Prof. Ralph Williams, who has been at the University for
more than 34 years but only recently declared to the campus he was
gay, also spoke at the event. “It is a personal good to live
openly and honestly about who one is; it is destructive to not.
… Today is a day for saying to one another, ‘You are
not alone.’ Celebrate. You are free, you are not
alone.”

“I greatly admired his courage in coming out publicly at
our rally, despite the fact that he is such a well-known figure on
campus and had yet to come out to all of his colleagues,”
said LSA senior Brian Hull, co-chair of the LGBT Commission of MSA.
“People like Prof. Williams make our University an exciting
place to earn a degree, and to have him publicly join the LGBT
community with such a powerful speech as he did, it made this
National Coming Out Week one to remember.”

But coming out was not the only issue addressed at the rally.
One event co-sponsored by the Stonewall Democrats — a campus
LGBT group within the College Democrats — provided
educational literature regarding Proposal 2, a ballot initiative
seeking to amend the state constitution to ban gay marriage and
similar unions.

“We want to get the word out about Proposal 2 and the
Kerry-Edwards campaign,” said LSA senior Andrea Knittel,
co-chair of the Stonewall Democrats, who opposes the proposal.
“(Proposal 2) is very vague. We don’t know how far it
will go, but definitely beyond defining marriage.”

Foula Dimopoulos, a Social Work alum and community advocate for
LGBT issues, told the audience to act in opposition to the
amendment. “At this crossroad, we have an opportunity to
declare what we desire in out communities and on campus,”
Dimopoulos said.

Campus visibility was another theme supported by both speakers
and rally attendees. Many took advantage of free buttons, rainbow
ribbons and Kerry-Edwards signs provided by the Stonewall Democrats
and other sponsoring organizations.

“I came out to see if any of my students were here, and to
let them see their instructor is queer,” said Holly
Burmeister, a graduate student in English. “It is important
for faculty and instructors, when they are able to be out, to
create a more inclusive atmosphere of student comfort.”

LSA senior Meghan Jarpe said LGBT events on campus are often
lightly attended. “I’m here as a part of the queer
community, just to be supportive. I always wish there were more
people at these events, so it’s my obligation to go,”
she said.

The rally earned the praise of both participants and organizers,
and provided a show of support for the recognition of National
Coming Out Week.

“We had a great crowd gather and I believe that the rally
did succeed in bringing more visibility to campus for LGBTQ
issues,” Garrett said. “It also celebrated who we are
as LGBTQ people and allies. My favorite part of the rally is always
the tradition of coming through the closet door to come out
publicly. I think this is a great symbolic act that can be very
empowering for its participants.”

LGBT advocate Jamison Green will keynote speaker for National
Coming Out Day. Green is internationally respected for his work
with transgender people and advocacy on LGBT issues. Green
published this year his book “Becoming a Visible Man,”
which addresses the autobiographical experience of being a
female-to-male transsexual and the struggles of opposing social and
political forces.

The keynote speech takes place today at 7 p.m. in Hutchins
Hall.

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