Students out and proud

Before Wednesday, junior Kim Jarman had only told close friends and her sister that she identifies with bisexuality.

That changed on Wednesday, when she “came out” for the first time in public at USF’s National Coming Out Day event.

“When you do come out, it’s reassuring to know that you have people that are going to support your decision and not judge you,” she said. “Knowing that you have a safe place … knowing that if you’re walking around campus and you’re constantly being judged, at least there’s a core group of people that are going to support what your decision has been … because you are what you are, whether you come out or not.”

At this year’s National Coming Out Day Celebration, there was a general sense of affability and kinship among the participants who came to network, chat, and even just listen to the music. To commemorate the holiday, USF Pride Alliance, Students Against Discrimination Everywhere and Queer Liberation Front, a club that is not associated with USF, worked together to organize USF’s own coming-out event.

The festivities included a concert by Christie Lenee, in addition to several formal speeches. One speech by USF alumnus and geography professor Mark Haffen emphasized the changing perception of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning and Allied (GLBTQQA) persons on university campuses.

In addition to a speech by Tamara Wasserman, a junior majoring political science and president of USF’s Pride Alliance, Jenelle Buza, a junior majoring in communications, read a poem she wrote about her own coming out.

“My mother asked why – why do people have to know … You become a second-class citizen / your love does not matter to others when / You say you’re gay / I know this because / I am out,” she read.

Kris Hechevarria, a board member of USF’s Pride Alliance and fourth-year undergraduate student majoring in women’s studies, said that during his tenure at USF, there had always been some sort of event. Hechevarria then asserted that this year’s event “will be the biggest event, the biggest time that USF has even thrown this celebration, though.”

Though Hechevarria said USF’s Pride Alliance is not a chapter of a national organization, it is the oldest GLBTQQA organization in Florida.

“It’s a national holiday,” Hechevarria said. “It’s put together by HRC, which is the Human Rights Campaign. They are a nationally recognized organization that’s fighting for equality and GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) rights.”

Although Hechevarria is gay, he plans to marry his best friend, a lesbian, to bring attention to the issue of gay marriage rights.

“We had decided that we wanted to get married because … marriage is supposed to be between a man and a woman,” he said. “There’s really no rules stating what exactly the romantic aspect or any aspect of it needed to be.”

Participants in this year’s event include those who have been openly gay, or “out,” for many years as well as those who are coming out for the first time.

Despite the fact that coming out is often thought of as a solemn event, USF’s National Coming Out Day event was effusive and celebratory in nature.

Around noon, Tyler Smith, a junior majoring in psychology, kicked off what would become the highlight of the day’s event: Patrons were invited to participate in a public “coming out” and openly proclaim either their sexuality or their solidarity with the GLBTQQA community.

As well as asserting pride, the event aimed at educating the broader USF community. To do so, the event’s sponsors distributed buttons that read: “What if I’m Gay?”

The point of the pin is to force USF students to question how and why they would react toward the suspicion that the friend or classmate is gay.

Par D, a USF graduate and owner of the store All-American Dyke, sold pride items such as T-shirts and jewelry. Though Par D was not a member of Pride USF when she was a student, she said, “There definitely need to be more organizations like Pride USF now more than ever,” adding she intends to help out with similar events in the future.

Pride USF is also sponsoring the National Day of Silence and a drag show, which will be held in the spring.