“Part of being Dean of Students is doing whatever I can to make this an environment where all students can thrive, grow and prosper.”
Dean of students, Mary Beth Mackin said this, setting the tone for UW-Whitewater’s Coming Out forum on October 4.
The Coming Out forum consisted of a small crowd gathered outside the University Center. The group listened to speakers in support of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender community in honor of National Coming Out Day.
The importance of National Coming Out Day was addressed at the forum by multiple speakers as a day of recognition of the bravery of those who fought for civil rights for the LGBT community in the past, present, and those who will carry the torch in the future.
Mackin, the event’s first guest speaker said, “There are brave people who went before us, and we need to recognize their impact as well.”
Mackin also said the audience should take into consideration how National Coming Out Day has grown since its humble beginning in 1988 and to think about all the people around the world who are gathering and celebrating the courage and ability to come out.
One of the evolutionary things to shape this national holiday is that it has recently taken on different themes each year.
“This particular year’s theme is, ‘Come Out. Vote,’” Mackin said. “We can use our vote to promote equality and justice.”
Mackin said later, “No matter how each of you choose to change the world, in big ways or in small, I hope you’ll do it proudly, and I hope you’ll do that with conviction.”
Her statement on creating a welcoming environment was quickly given support with testimony from Bethe Croy, president of the campus LGBT alliance.
Croy said she feels UW-Whitewater “is one of the more accepting, ‘better,’ schools.”
“For every 1 negative response, there are 3 positive, encouraging, supportive ones,” Croy said. “And that’s awesome.”
Unfortunately such a balance is not always the case. Other testimonies followed, recounting fears of being turned out by family and friends.
Testimonies like Eric Villanueva’s illustrated both the fears and triumphs associated with coming out.
Villanueva said he had to hide who he was, the depression it caused and the first friend he finally confessed his secret to.
“I thought I was going to lose a friend. I thought he was gone forever,” Villanueva said.
Villanueva’s friend took the news and told him he couldn’t be happier the positive reaction.
Not all testimonies ended so happily however.
Kari Jo Freudigmann, Vice President of the UW-Whitewater LGBT Alliance recounted moments of hardship or enduring hateful judgments. This included organizations known as the “Faithful Soldiers” visiting the UW-Whitewater campus, until the Whitewater community came together to stand against the hate preaching and asked them to leave.
Everyone had different reasons for being at the October 4 gathering. Some came to give testimony like Villanueva and Freudigmann. Others came to show support and listen, like the following audience members.
Helen DeMuth said, “It feels important, having family members that are gay to show support and to see other’s perspectives.”
“It’s really powerful to see everyone out here and not have to be afraid of repercussions,” Emma Antrim said, an audience member.
Nicholas Milone said, “I’m so glad we can do this in such a small town, and feel safe and comfortable. And that we can do this in the face of hate crimes.”