Members of the LGBT community in the United States military can now be open about their sexuality since “don’t ask, don’t tell” was repealed last month, but they still face major inequalities in our society. Events like National Coming Out Week remind us of these issues and the necessity of equal rights for every citizen. This week is a reminder of the importance of being understanding and respectful of different sexual orientations and lifestyles.

Today is the fifth day of National Coming Out Week. The celebration has grown to a nationwide event since it started in 1988. National Coming Out Day, which kicks off the week each year, is celebrated throughout the country. At the University, the weeklong event was celebrated with a rally on the Diag on Monday, as well as other events held by the Michigan Student Assembly and student groups in support of LGBT students and their allies on campus.

Over the past year, the media has been awash with stories of horrific bullying and attacks on LGBT students. But bullying that happens on a daily basis, and may seem harmless to some, often goes unnoticed. Across the nation, nine out of 10 LGBT middle school and high school students have been harassed at school, according to statistics from the National Youth Association. And more than a third of LGBT youth have attempted suicide at some point. These students are also more likely to suffer depression than heterosexual students. Events such as National Coming Out Week draw necessary attention to an issue that can pose a legitimate threat to young people in America.

While Ann Arbor is generally considered a socially progressive city and the University a free-thinking institution, it’s still important to remember and respect the difficulties LGBT students can face. Even in the most positive environments, a stigma still exists around LGBT issues. Michigan has some of the strictest laws in the country banning gay marriage and limiting same-sex partner benefits.

If LGBT individuals continue to be marginalized by American laws, events like National Coming Out Week will continue to be important to advocate for equal rights. This week is an opportunity to create a supportive environment for LGBT students, so they may be proud of their identity. And it reminds all students that they must be cognizant of how they speak and behave.

But the support for LGBT students shouldn’t end after this week. It’s important to continue to build a tolerant environment throughout the year. The Spectrum Center is open year-round to provide assistance and open forums, and this supportive mentality should spread throughout the University. All students should have access to resources that help them with any personal identity struggles. And if there is a problem, they should have a safe place to seek help. The University must provide a safe and secure environment for all students.

The University has been touting the phrase “Expect Respect” to encourage students to be conscious of the way they act toward each other. The message of National Coming Out Week shouldn’t be limited to just one week of the year, but should instead have influence across campus every day.

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