OUTober, a six-week long celebration of the LGBTQ community organized by the LGBTQ Resource Center and GU Pride, returned to campus this month in its 11th annual iteration with increased programming for transgender history and rights.
In conjunction with student organizations and academic departments, the LGBTQ Resource Center has organized 15 panel discussions, guest speaker events and social gatherings spanning the months of October, which is national LGBT History Month, and November.
GU Pride kicked off the month’s festivities with an event commemorating Coming Out Day in Red Square last Friday. Students expressed their solidarity with the LGBTQ community by unfurling rainbow flags, chalking murals with encouraging messages and participating in a photo campaign expressing their support for equality. Students were also invited to stride through a symbolic closet door at the event.
Other programs for OUTober include a conversation next Tuesday with Ali Liebegott, one of the writers of the Emmy-winning show “Transparent,” a Walk to End HIV next Saturday and a memorial service for victims of transphobic violence Nov. 19.
LGBTQ Resource Center Director Shiva Subbaraman said that Coming Out Day has expanded and evolved to encompass more fluid gender identities since the LGBTQ Resource Center was established in 2008.
“[OUTober] now goes through November to include transgender history and Transgender Day of Remembrance,” Subbaraman said. “I think transgender is the piece we have focused a lot more on this year, and we also focused a lot more on interconnectedness of identities.”
Subbaraman said that the events aim to promote diversity among LGBTQ students on campus.
“When most people think about gay people, they think of a gay white man, at best a gay white woman. They’re not thinking of people like me, who look like this and dress like this and walk like this, so I think for us, the biggest continued challenge is to make it clear to people that we are many communities, not one,” Subbaraman said. “We represent probably one of the most diverse cross-sections of this campus community and almost any other community you can think of.”
GU Pride President Campbell James (SFS ’17) said that OUTober engages the community in a conversation about identity on campus. GU Pride coordinated roughly half the events in OUTober and began gauging student interest in programming in July.
“For us, Coming Out Day is just the kickoff of OUTober,” James said. “But to me, it’s a way of showing that queer students are your friends, your roommates, that they’re in your classes, they’re your [residential assistants], they’re your [orientation advisors], they’re everywhere around school. It’s not the focus of any GU Pride events or its mission, but it’s really a celebration of our identities.”
GU Pride Communications Officer Grace Smith (COL ’18) said that Coming Out Day is one of her favorite events of OUTober. Smith said she particularly loves the t-shirts that participants wore that read “I am.”
“Of all the events that [GU] Pride does, this is the most important one to me,” Smith said. “‘I am’ is a very bold statement because I don’t think a lot of people in the LGBT community have the privilege to say ‘I am’ and add something after. I think it represents those people whose very existence is an act of rebellion and who are continually fighting.”
Coming Out Day also cemented a collaboration between GU Pride and the Georgetown chapter of Active Minds, a national organization that promotes mental health awareness among college students. The Georgetown chapter hosts dialogues and provides resources for mental health issues.
GU Pride and Active Minds jointly produced the “Dignity and Pride” theme for the Coming Out Day photo campaign.
According to Active Minds Marketing Chair Sylvia Levy (SFS ’18), LGBTQ and mental health are topics that deserve more attention from the community.
“The social stigmas attached to both mental illness and the social stigmas attached to gender and sexuality are really impactful on us as college students and in people in general, and the messages we get in society about who you’re supposed to be and who you’re supposed to like and how you’re supposed to think are very problematic,” Levy said.
Besides those regarding mental health, Subbaraman said that events in OUTober will tackle other stigmas confronting LGBTQ students, faculty and alumni.
“There is still a lot of job discrimination, and it’s not easy for gay people, especially trans, to get access to health care,” Subbaraman said. “It is not easy to find career paths that are open to them especially since they want to be out, so I think there are a lot of real struggles in the world for students who are LGBT, and I think empowering our students to think more broadly about their identity and what they can or cannot do is part of the work we do here.”
Marguerite Guter (SFS ’19), who participated in the “Dignity and Pride” photo campaign, said that Coming Out Day helped to foster an atmosphere of tolerance within the community.
“It showed everyone that it’s okay to be who you are and that you can publically identify yourself as whoever you are and other people will be there to identify as your supporters,” Guter said. “It was just a very positive experience for everyone involved.”
Smith said that at its core, the purpose of Coming Out Day extends beyond sexual orientation and gender.
“It’s important for everybody to come out and say something that they love about themselves, and it doesn’t have to be related to LGBT issues or those sort of identities,” Smith said. “Everybody has something worth celebrating, but we don’t do it enough. That’s why I think it’s important to set aside one day to do just that.”