Diversity panel explores coming out

By Katie Reing
February 27, 2003

Courtesy of Maria Chambers

To meet the need of “a significant, silent group of gay students at Cabrini,” Cabrini’s annual Cultural Kaleidoscope week featured a gay and lesbian forum.

“I felt there was a need for this [forum],” said Suzanne Mallaghan-Rasco, a psychologist in the Rooymans Center who organized the event. It was held last Thursday, Feb. 20. The forum, titled “Talk Back Live,” was formulated to discuss issues with being gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender in today’s society. The forum was sponsored by the Cabrini Counseling Services.

The forum included a panel of speakers facilitated by John Watson, the assistant director of counseling and director of drug and alcohol services at Drexel University. “We’re here as a group of folks to comment on our experience,” Watson said. The panel consisted of four other members including Kerry Wilson, a 21-year-old Drexel student. The group discussed their backgrounds from their jobs to their religious beliefs and their ideas of sexuality.

“Being gay is not just having sex with someone of the same gender,” Watson began. “It is a long term sexual and romantic attraction to someone of the same sex.”

The panel went on to discuss the struggles of “coming out.” Most panelists acknowledged that they knew they were gay from an early age, but did not understand it. “Many of us realized early, ‘I’m different,’ but there were always these roadblocks,” Watson said. Panelist Stephanie Mannis went on to say, “You know it, but you choose not to see it. In college I experimented, but I always had a boyfriend. I never thought about [being a lesbian]. It wasn’t an option.”

“I thought it was just a phase,” agreed panelist Seth Eaker. “It took me a long time to vocalize it. But once you vocalize it, everything changes and you can’t go back.”

“There were pressures for me not to be gay. I didn’t want to be gay,” speaker Chris Donato acknowledged. “Dating a guy meant I was gay. I could experiment, but I couldn’t date him. I was careful to make that distinction. It has taken me a long time. I needed to get comfortable with myself.”

Mallaghan-Rasco acknowledged that it is hard for the silent group of students to come out. “College is a hard time. You’re worried about what your family and friends will think, worried that they might condemn it or think that it is wrong. You’re also consolidating your identity and going through developmental issues.”

While talking abut his experience coming out, Eaker said, “Regardless of who you come out to, the people you are close to realize that they are close to you because of who you are.”

Senior Maria Chambers attended the seminar. Chambers came out during her freshman year. “My friends were better with it than people who didn’t know me. People were put off by the idea, especially since I was living in Woodcrest. But my friends were great.”

“I thought the seminar was good because it covered some practical points,” Chambers said. “But I also felt it was just random people telling more about their lives instead of the struggles of being gay. I also thought it was surreal that none of them had any real harassment.”

Chambers experienced some harassment herself after writing a perspective piece about being gay for “Loquitur” in January of 2002. Offensive notes were slipped under Chambers’ door condemning her and her article. ” I wrote that article because I had the chance to. I wrote it mainly for myself, but also to show that gay people are normal people.”

“I feel like people think I am flaunting it, when really I am just comfortable with myself,” continued Chambers. “I am more upset when people don’t say things and give looks instead. Maybe I’m just paranoid, or maybe it’s a culture shock for them.”

Chambers admitted knowing a number of gay students who are afraid to “come out, ” but feels that their fear has less to do with Cabrini but more with their personal lives. “It has more to do with their families although Cabrini might have something to do with it. When I speak to people who aren’t out, their main thought is ‘My mom would kill me.'”

Wilson talked about her personal tribulations with gaining acceptance from her family. “When I came out, my mother begged, ‘Please don’t be a lesbian.’ She’d be upset if she knew that some of my cousins know,” Wilson recalled.

While gayness might be a big part of some people’s lives, for Eaker “Gayness is a very small part of my life, but we need to be trail blazers, and with every generation it should get easier.”

Another issue the panel discussed was the image of gays and lesbians in the media, laughing over “Will and Grace” character “Jack” and the use of the term “queerific” on Showtime’s “Queer as Folk.” “While not accurate, it gives us a point of commonality and gives us an entrance into the conversation, which is something we’ve never had before,” Watson said.

The seminar closed with the panel offering their advice for others who are struggling with being homosexual. “Realize that you are not alone,” Eaker said.

“Be comfortable with who you are. Work on loving yourself and other people will love you,” Mannis said. “Recognize that there is a lot of diversity in this world. Express yourself.”

“On the journey there are going to be moments where you look in the mirror and you love yourself, hate yourself or are in between. We all go through this and it’s OK. There is always someone who can be there for you,” closed Watson.

Watson is also helping organize a panel for the “Equality Forum”, the largest gay and lesbian festival in the country. The Equality Forum will be held in Philadelphia from April 28 to May 4. For more information visit equality forum

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Katie Reing

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