Students from across campus gathered on the Diag yesterday afternoon to proclaim their identities at an event to kickoff National Coming Out Week.

In addition to a wide range of speakers, the festivities included rainbow banners and a ceremony in which students walked through a giant closet door — which many said was the highlight of the event.

As students emerged from behind the door, which was located on the steps of the Hatcher Graduate Library, they stepped up to a microphone to state their name and publicly identify themselves.

Chris Armstrong, chair of the Michigan Student Assembly LGBT Commission, said the purpose of the event was for “the LGBT community on campus to be able to come out into the public realm.”

Ariana Bostian-Kentes, administrative and programming coordinator of the Spectrum Center, said the event aims to expose the LGBT community to a new audience.

“It’s really important that people in the community put a face to an identity,” she said.

Bostian-Kentes added that the event allowed students who identify as LGBT to realize that there is a supportive environment available to them to come out and talk about their experiences.

Armstrong said the event gives shy students a venue to proclaim their identity in a place like the Diag, with its history of protest and free speech.

“It really gives a space for people who are sort of brushed aside to be able to just be out there and be proud and express their hopes and their fears and what they’ve experienced,” he said.

Social Work student Andre Wilson publicly identified himself as transgendered when he walked through the door. He told the story of when he went with his girlfriend to the National Equality March in 1979.

In an interview, Wilson said he was excited to be a part of the rally on the Diag, but that it is a shame many who identify as LGBT still face prejudice.

“It’s an enormous act of self-affirmation,” he said. “But I can’t believe that we still have to do this.”

Mike Rorro, vice president of the Michigan Student Assembly, gave a speech at the rally describing his experience as an ally — a straight person allied with the LGBT community.

“I see my development into an ally for the LGBT community as one of my most important experiences here,” he said.

Armstrong said the presence of Rorro and other allies at the rally helped make the event “a community-building opportunity.”

“The process of coming out is supposed to be something that LGBT students raise awareness about,” he said. “People come out as an ally like other identities.”

Several students who had just returned from the National Equality Rally in Washington, D.C. also attended the Diag rally. The students marched on the National Mall to encourage legislators to repeal the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, California’s constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in the state and the Defense of Marriage Act.

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