GT Coming Out Week supports LGBT community

Students walking down Skiles this week might have noticed a bit more color than usual. For most of the week, students in white and plum shirts stood next to a wildly-painted closet door surrounded by brightly-colored balloons and passed out flyers stamped with pictures of cows and pink triangles.

This Technicolor display was set up by the Georgia Tech Pride Alliance to advertise for their annual event, Coming Out Week, an event the organization hosts annually to advocate for and educate the public about lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans gender (LGBT) issues.

According to Ryan Epp, second-year EE and president of the Pride Alliance, the event is typically hosted around National Coming Out Day, which occurs every Oct. 11 but, due to Homecoming, was postponed, so the events associated with each didn’t collide with each other.

The week kicked off Monday night, with a presentation by Suzann Lawry, a psychiatrist who works extensively with the LGBT community on the state of marriage in the United States.

Lawry’s presentation spanned a wide range of topics, covering everything from a brief history of the gay rights movement in the US, from facts combating stereotypes of gay couples, to the rights that gay couples lack in comparison to straight couples and the importance of legalizing gay marriage.

Lawry first presented several reasons arguing for the legalization of same-sex marriage from both a social, legal and economical standpoint.

When not protected by marriage, gay couples (and their children) don’t receive many tax benefits straight couples do and can’t claim social security or veterans benefits upon the death of their partner. Moreover, she mentioned gay couples having to deal with issues like a lack of input in critical medical procedures, lack of child visitation rights for split couples, and the lack of federally-protected time off from work to take care of an ill loved-one.

Lawry said, “We’ve learned from history that, by default, separate is not equal…Being gay doesn’t cause pain. Discrimination causes pain. Oppression causes pain.”

Lawry then presented several slides on stereotypes often associated with being gay and combating common beliefs about the quality of gay relationships. She mentioned studies that showed gay couples stand toe-to-toe with straight couples in terms of quality of life, relationship satisfaction and relationship skills, and even surpassed straight couples when it came to division of labor, as they didn’t have to deal with traditional gender roles.

Lawry said, “As you can see, the research really doesn’t support the stereotypes.”

Tuesday night, the Alliance held an event on what they called “coming out as an ally,” or how to be a straight ally of the LGBT movement and how to help friends who come to you.

This event started with another guest speaker, Jeff Mackenzie, a member of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and father of a lesbian daughter. Mackenzie discussed how being a straight ally has changed over his lifetime, and why combating prejudice amongst older generations is so difficult.

Mackenzie said, “People of my generation had our values instilled in us by the previous generation, whose attitude was, ‘There are no gay people and, if there are, they’re all perverts.’”

Mackenzie describes PFLAG as a support group that’s open to anyone in the community, but mainly geared towards helping parents with homosexual children accept their lifestyle.

Mackenzie said, “[I’ve] seen parents come to their first meeting sobbing and weeping because they believed their son or daughter was going to burn in hell. Then, six months later, I’ve seen those same parents marching in a pride parade.”

Mackenzie’s presentation was followed by several students’ stories about friends and crushes coming out to them, as well as several students’ stories about how they got involved in LGBT rights in the first place.

Early Wednesday, the Alliance hosted a similar event, but with more focus on how people in positions of authority—particularly professors, TAs and RAs—can help homosexual students who come to them with problems they’re having.

Epp described this Safe Space training session as, “a training session for how to be an effective ally and what to do if people come to you with issues they are having trouble with.”

Later that night, the Alliance hosted an alumni panel, where a handful of gay alumni discussed what it’s like being out after college.

Epp said, “It [was] an interesting experience, listening to people who have been in our shoes before, and seeing what kind of experiences they’ve had since they entered the workforce.”

The counseling center helped out by hosting a Coming Out Workshop on Thursday. Austin Lawry, second year IAML major, public relations chair of the Alliance, and daughter of Dr. Lawry, attended the event last year.

Lawry said, “It was really nice, in that it wasn’t aimed just at gay students, but also was about how to be receptive to friends coming out to us.”

Lawry said a major part of the event was how students could handle each part of the coming out process.

Lawry said, “We tackled each of the different kinds of coming out. We talked about coming out to friends, coming out to your parents and family, and coming out to your colleagues and coworkers.”

It was about what is the right time to come out, how to be calm about it and how to be understanding of the feelings of the person they come out to.”

Thursday night, the Alliance did things a bit differently than in the past.

Normally, there is a discussion of homosexuality in the Bible, but this year, the Alliance expanded the topic to cover attitudes towards homosexuality in several different religions, with particular focus on Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

The Alliance’s next major event is their annual charity drag show in the spring, though they host several awareness drives and smaller events throughout the year.

According to Epp, for every month when there isn’t a major event, the Alliance will typically have two days where they try to raise awareness and support for LGBT issues.

Topics covered in the past have included the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy and the fact that in several states, Georgia included, it’s still legal for employees to be fired over sexual orientation.

The Pride Alliance will also be marching in Atlanta Pride march this weekend at Piedmont Park, as a happy accident placed the Atlanta Pride Festival right at the end of Tech’s Coming Out Week.