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Students celebrate Coming Out Day

The LGBT community took over the Bryan Center Plaza Friday to promote awareness of LGBT issues and give away Love=Love T-shirts.
The LGBT community took over the Bryan Center Plaza Friday to promote awareness of LGBT issues and give away Love=Love T-shirts.

More than 20 campus organizations set up tables Friday in support of the LGBT community among the rainbow balloons and flags on the West Campus Plaza.

National Coming Out Day promotes the awareness of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues. Normally celebrated Oct. 11, the Center for LGBT Life hosted a celebration Friday because Duke students were on Fall Break Oct. 11. The Center for LGBT Life distributed more than 1,500 “Love = Love” t-shirts in three hours before concluding the event with a performance by the Defining Movement dance troupe.

When Janie Long became the director of the Center for LGBT Life four years ago, National Coming Out Day at Duke consisted of a quiet dinner where people shared their personal coming out stories. Since that time, there has been a transformation in the visibility and impact of National Coming Out Day on campus, said junior Megan Weinand, the student coordinator for the event as well as editor-in-chief of Womyn Magazine, a student-run publication for the gay female community.

“Coming Out Day used to be more like ‘Coming In Day,’” said Weinand. “It was dinner inside the Center, and when [Long] said, ‘Hey let’s put it on the plaza,’ nobody believed we could do it. But now we’re covering the entire plaza.”

When Long suggested the more public venue, some students thought she was a little radical, Long wrote in an e-mail Friday. But the first year the event was hosted on the plaza, students were “thrilled” by the results, she said.

Although part of the original premise of the national event was for people to publicly identify themselves as gay, at Duke the event is more of a celebration, said junior Patrick Peixoto, a volunteer for the event.

“Suddenly you see a mass of people on the plaza—there are rainbow flags everywhere, there’s music blasting,” said Aliza Lopes-Baker, vice president for Blue Devils United. “It’s a very festive celebration of LGBT life at Duke, and it’s one of the few days we get to celebrate so openly with allies.”

Weinand said the event highlighted the growing support for the community at Duke. Since her freshman year, she said she has noticed more rainbow flags on campus. The progress is encouraging for closeted people, she added, because for many Duke students coming out is not a one-time event but a continual process.

“Are there closeted people on campus? Yes, because I know them. Are there out people on campus? Yes, because I know them. People are always progressing on this journey of coming out,” Weinand said.

Still, students and administrators noted room for improvement. Challenges include a high level of heteronormativity and gender conformity, a lack of openly LGBT faculty, a residential system with limited housing and bathroom options for transgender students and few outlets for social activity on campus for same-sex partners, Long said.

Damon Seils, a senior research analyst for the Duke Clinical Research Institute who also serves as co-chair for Duke’s LGBT Task Force, noted the long-term nature of changes in attitude.

“It’s really great that there’s noticeable improvement on student engagement on these issues. But I don’t know if that’s yet translated in changes in attitude because things like that don’t change overnight,” he said.

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