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‘Coming out’ with motivation and pride

Students and faculty of all orientations celebrated National Coming Out Day on Tuesday, with hopes of encouraging acceptance and awareness of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people.

Michael Brill, president of Tampa Bay Business Guild, spoke at the event about its significance.

“It’s an important day in the life of the country; it shows the societal majority that we are just who we are,” Brill said. “What we’re here to do is celebrate that we’re just like everyone else, our orientation is just different.”

The event included speeches, live musical entertainment and informational tables on GLBT issues and clubs. The event welcomed not only the alternative lifestyle community, but also heterosexual students, faculty and staff members to join in the celebration.

“We wanted to put in performers to attract more people from the outside, to make it more of a social event and not just political,” said Vanessa Ruiz, president of the PRIDE Alliance, who also spoke at the event. “We wanted people to interact and get to know more than the politics. We’re normal people – it’s good to show that off.”

Joe Saunders, a representative from Equality Florida, the statewide GLBT rights organization, also spoke on the meaning of National Coming Out Day, which began in 1988 in commemoration of the 1987 Lesbian and Gay Rights March on Washington.

“It’s a celebration of diversity, a representation of what brings our community together,” Saunders said.

As a member of the local business community, Brill was affected by the recent ban on gay pride in Hillsborough County. During his speech he told audience members about how he lost patrons due to his sexual orientation.

“We are a free country, but freedom is never free: It costs every generation something,” Brill said. “Discrimination in the long run does not pay. It is bad for business and bad for the country.”

Other speakers at the event included Karen Lowman, owner of local coffee house Sacred Grounds, a gay-friendly institution; Lynne Carlson, PRIDE adviser and former educator; Ric Baker, representing the SafeZone project, a GLBT rights group; and James Geiger, a USF student.Geiger brought messages for crowds of all orientations.

“Who cares who I dream of? Who cares who I love,” he said. “It is OK to be human beings – we are all human beings. You only live life once – live it to the fullest.”

In between speakers there was live music to keep the audience captivated. Performers included singer/songwriter Lexi Pierson, live band Giddy-up, Helicopter and punk/ska band C.I.O. Passersby stopped to listen to the music, and some danced near the MLK plaza.

Erika Avteaga, a public health graduate student, chose to study nearby because she liked the music that was playing. She browsed the information tables during her studying to learn about the event.

This year’s National Coming Out Day was longer and featured musical talent, which was absent from last year’s celebration.

“I think we’re celebrating something a little different now,” Ruiz said. “Before it was so taboo to come out, but now it’s much more accepted. I think right now we’re in a time where we can celebrate the fact that we can come out in a safe environment. We’re making huge strides right now; a lot of things have changed.”

Junior criminology student Chelsea Tanner attended the event to show support for the gay community.

“I believe that it is important to come out and show support for the gay community especially because there is no physical identification among gay people such as skin color, language or any other physical characteristic,” Tanner said. “We are everywhere and everyone, yet we are invisible to each other.”