In celebration of the thirtieth anniversaries of both National Coming Out Day and Andover’s Gender Sexuality Alliance (G.S.A.), G.S.A. hosted a coming out panel at which members of the community shared their own coming out experiences.
Marisela Ramos, Instructor in History and Social Science and LGBTQIA+ Adult Coordinator, organized the hour-long event on October 11.
“The more that we share these stories and people hear them, it becomes more acceptable and [an] accepting place. The fact that we can have one, the fact that we had a G.S.A. for 30 years, means that people are interested and they want to learn more, whether you are queer or not,” said Ramos in an interview with The Phillipian.
According to GSANetwork.org, G.S.A.’s goal is to provide a safe and supportive environment for the LGBTQIA+ youth to talk about sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression.
Ramos said, “I was glad to see a lot of allies in the audience during the event, but I think it is also crucial for other queer people to know that there isn’t one way of being queer. I think oftentimes when people come out, they feel the need the learn how to be gay. There isn’t one way, but multiple methods, and so [the panel] is a way for people to support each other.”
Ramos says she feels that her presence as a queer faculty member and the LGBTQIA+ Adult Coordinator indicates that there is strong support from the administration for queer faculty and students.
“I am the [LGBTQIA+] Adult Coordinator, so I mostly work with the adult sides of things. The fact that my position exists means that one, there is enough [LGBTQIA+] faculty on this campus, but it also means that there is strong support from administration and other colleagues. That is really important for helping to improve this campus,” said Ramos.
The event took place at the Rebecca M. Sykes Wellness Center. According to Karin Ulanovsky ’20, an attendee who shared her coming out story, this area was relatively small and purposefully intimate.
“I decided to share my story because I feel like it is one that has a lot of experiences in it that could relate to all different kinds of queer youth. The idea of cultural differences between me and my parents or grandparents, as well as the ideas of first experience with your peers and adults… all these different dynamics, and how societal expectations have influenced that,” said Ulanovsky in an interview with The Phillipian.
Ulanovsky says she believes that these conversations are especially important in settings like Andover where students are isolated from their families. She says she hopes that in sharing stories and being open about discussions, students will consider Andover a safe, accepting environment for coming out.
“There are lots of people who still feel like they can’t come out for some reasons. It is important that they see other people who do feel like they can come out and provide them courage,” said Ulanovsky.
Ulanovsky also said she hopes that faculty members will feel support from the students.
“In the 21st century, youth coming out stories are widely different from adult coming out stories, because it was such a different time when adults came out. As much as they still suffer from coming out, [the youth now] have many possibilities to be fully accepted by their peers. It is such a different circumstance that I hope the adults feel student support or hope from this, especially that the movement is going towards a positive direction,” said Ulanovsky.
Bea Hruska ’20, another panelist, said she was inspired to share her coming out story because she has had mostly positive responses from the people around her before. She says she hopes that her story helps others who struggle with coming out and uplifts those who had negative experiences.
“Andover has existed through many parts of queer history, both when the students here were unable to ever come out, up to now when we are able to have a day all about coming out. The work is not finished, but I feel like Coming Out Day can act as a celebration to the progress that has been made, along with a memorial to all who could have benefited from that progress but never got to see it,” wrote Hruska in an email to The Phillipian.
Liv Martens ’19, who attended the event, said she enjoyed listening to the stories panelists shared and recognizing the history of G.S.A.
“I think that it is important to recognize the history of G.S.A., and it certainly was a nice experience to hear the stories of what other peers have [gone] through in part of their lives. If one feels uncomfortable at the moment, it is okay to not come out to everyone. However, there are always people who support and accept you on this campus, no matter who you are,” said Martens.
According to Ramos, the biggest obstacle in coming out for many young people has to do with family. She says it is important to have conversations about coming out experiences so that those who are facing potential conflict with family members can learn how to navigate it.
Ramos said, “Ways that allies can help [are] by hearing these stories and becoming more knowledgeable about what exactly are the implications of coming out and concerns. Coming out is very real and exciting but a potentially frightening situation. Knowing a potential question that a queer student might have is always the first step.”