USF’s first National Coming Out Day celebration highlights community voices

Queer poet Sonia Guiñansaca highlighted the importance of student organizations and chosen families in college for the LGBTQ community. ORACLE PHOTO/JULIA SAAD

Ecuadorian author Sonia Guiñansaca coming out to their Hispanic mother at a busy restaurant in New York City was marked by an awkward picture taken by their sister.

With having exposed themself as undocumented and having been arrested during a protest, Guiñansaca thought they couldn’t shock their mother any further. Guiñansaca said it was hard to find the right words to come out, despite being a writer.

“The day before, I had repeated the line over and over again, ‘Should I say it in English or in Spanglish?’” Guiñansaca said. ”So I raised myself to grip the bench’s armrest, and awkwardly looked away and said ‘Mami, soy gay.’”

Guiñansaca shared their story at USF’s first National Coming Out Day celebration on Tuesday, hosted by the Office of Multicultural Affairs.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor was the first speaker, and she took pride in her active role to be an ally for the LGBTQ community, saying that the community aided the movement by electing the first gay Commissioner.

She also addressed the LGBTQ youth’s disappointment in other political representatives who should be advocating for everyone’s needs.

“My message for all of you is to use it as a motivator to build peace and understanding among people,” Castor said. “At the very heart of this country, of this great United States of America, our fundamental freedoms include equality.”

Resident Assistant of the Stonewall Suites Living Learning Community Javier Pujols shared their experience in coming out to their family. Pujols was marked by the struggles of having to come out as queer in a religious household.

“This was typically something my mom and my family couldn’t wrap their head around, coupled with the fact that I suddenly didn’t believe in God,” Pujols said. “I was suddenly the devil in their eyes.”

Coordinator for Black Student Success Pilar Walker also shared her experience in coming out to her friends and family. She said her peers used to bully her for playing basketball and having mainly male friends. She shared some words of encouragement to those who might have not come out in fear of the response.

“I know it’s tough when it comes to friends and family, you have to tell them at your own time,” Walker said. “Those who matter don’t care, and those who care, don’t matter!”

After being introduced by student leaders, Guiñansaca started with a poem inspired by their immigrant mother, who has now grown to be their biggest supporter. While sharing their coming out story, the author highlights the importance of their platonic life partner, a queer Chilean artist, during their identity journey.

Guiñansaca emphasized the work of Black and brown women and transgender people in the movement for equal rights, highlighting the fact that white cisgender gay men are historically the ones who receive credit in making a change.

While reminiscing about their past in organizing and activism, Guiñansaca said student organizations are crucial to the queer community. They said amplifying students’ voices should always be a priority for faculty when it comes to promoting political change.

“Young people’s visions, and strategy of young people, is what makes our movement possible. We see it in the work that is happening around gun control and climate justice, to health care,” Guiñansaca said

The fact that some students in the audience don’t feel safe coming out as queer to their families was addressed by Guiñansaca several times. They not only expressed how important it is to surround yourself with supportive people, but also mentioned how crucial it is to prioritize individual well-being.

The floor was then open to students for a Q&A with the author. A student asked Guiñansaca for advice on how to stay motivated as an LGBTQ rights activist in the state of Florida. Guiñansaca told the audience that there will always be strength in numbers and value in a community.

“There are so many radical folk,” they said. “Maybe they’re not as visible, intentionally, but they are existing and they are out there. Just reach out … We got to look out for each other.”