LGBTQ groups kick off Coming Out Week

Emily Jones/ Arizona Daily Wildcat Yolanda, ""Yolie"" Leon hands the microphone over to Violeta Ramos who discussed the challenges of being a lesbian during the LGBT meeting held in the Catalina Room of the Student Union on Wednesday afternoon. ""My girlfriend and I walked past a groups of young Catholics and one of them saw us holding hands and did the sign of the cross,"" Ramos said. ""It hurts because you realize you are not accepted for who you are.""

Today is the official kick-off for UA's Coming Out Week, a series of events organizers say are meant to raise awareness of issues affecting the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community on campus.

The event, sponsored by the Associated Students of the University of Arizona's Pride Alliance, the Office of LGBTQ Affairs and The Center for Student Involvement & Leadership, has expanded the week's events throughout the month of October. National Coming Out Day is Oct. 11.

Jai Smith, sociology junior and Pride Alliance director, said various organizations both on and off campus are involved in Coming Out Week. He said these organizations fit together like pieces in a puzzle.

""We are collaborating with a myriad of different organizations,"" Smith said.

This year also marks the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, which some say marked the beginning of the current gay rights movement. This uprising was sparked when the police raided a gay bar in New York City in the early hours of June 28, 1969, and members of the gay community began to protest. Smith said he hoped the Coming Out Week events would emphasize this important event in history.

Smith said Coming Out Week is similar to other heritage months.    

""It gives us a chance to highlight the strengths that we have as a community as well as the struggles that we've had to overcome,"" he said.

The event allows people who do not know a member of the LGBTQ community to break down any stereotypes they may have, he added.

""It gives them an opportunity to sort of put a face to a potential label,"" he said.

Smith said although the UA campus is more forward thinking than other areas, more education about the LGBTQ community is still needed.

""We're really big into breaking down the social norm of not really discussing the fact that there are different sexual orientations and gender expressions that exist,"" he said. ""We want to be able to start a dialogue with potential allies of the LBGT community about who we are — that we are your friends, your neighbors, your faculty, your staff, your students — and that we're here and we're just as normal as everyone else.""

Planning for Coming Out Week has been challenging, he said, because Pride Alliance is a student-run organization and relies on volunteers. Smith said about 12 students have helped with the event since mid-August.    

Anthony Quamahongnewa, a psychology senior, is one of the students who helped to plan Coming Out Week, including finding local drag queens to participate in the events.

""It's something to help influence students to be who they are and be out and proud,"" he said.

Coming Out Week is important, he said, because it lets students know they are not alone and that there are people to support them if they do decide to come out.

""It's a celebration to be proud of who you are and where you came from,"" he said.

Jennifer Hoefle, program director for social justice programs at the Center for Student Involvement and Leadership and Pride Alliance advisor, called the campus climate ""complex and dynamic"" in regards to its feelings toward the LGBTQ community.

According to a LGBTQ Campus Climate Survey conducted by the Office of LGBTQ Affairs between February and May 2008, 64.9 percent of respondents said they were completely ‘out,' 29.8 percent of respondents said they were ‘out' to certain people and 5.4 percent said they were not out at all. 

In addition to serving the LGBTQ community, Hoefle said, the event also raises awareness about its need for allies. Last year, students made squares for an ally quilt, and Hoefle said they plan to continue the project this year.

""It's an important symbol of the tapestry of support we have on campus and off campus,"" she said.

The cost of the event will be about $3,000, Smith said, which comes from Pride Alliance, Student Services Fee, ASUA, GPSC and Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation.    

Smith said there are different steps in coming out, and sometimes it is a transitional process. He said even if no one came out as LGBTQ during Coming Out Week, he hoped students would come out as allies.

""Our big thing is acceptance over tolerance,"" he said.

Sister Spit: The Next Generation

Friday Oct. 2, 8 p.m.

Gallagher Theater, 1303 E. University Dr.

FREE and open to the public

LGBTQ Resource Fair & Coming Out Stories

Monday, Oct. 5, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

UA Mall

Beyond Tolerance: Passive Education Project

Tuesday, Oct. 6, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.

UA Mall

Ice Cream and Allies

Wednesday, Oct. 7, 12–1 p.m.

Games Room, Student Union

Drag Bingo

Wednesday, Oct. 7, 5-7 p.m.

UA Mall

The Women's Resource Center Presents: In Sickness and In Health

Wednesday, Oct. 7, 7 p.m.

Gallagher Theater, Student Union

Safe Zone Training

Thursday, Oct. 8, 4-6 p.m.

Center for Student Involvement and Leadership,

Room 404 of the Student Union

Lesbian Looks Film Series Presents: Straightlaced: How Gender's Got us all Tied Up & Pariah

Friday, Oct. 9, 7:30 p.m.

Gallagher Theater, Student Union

Pride in the Desert

Saturday, Oct. 10, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.

Reid Park, $13

AIDSWalk Tucson

Sunday, Oct. 11, Check-in begins at 7 a.m.

UA Presents: ""The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later""

Monday, Oct. 12, 7 p.m.

Centennial Hall

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