By Ashley Custer
YSUnity’s Coming Out Week kicked off on Oct. 19 starting with the Coming Out closet door photo shoot in Kilcawley Center.
According to Tim Bortner, president of YSUnity, students participating in the Coming Out closet can do so to make any statement about themselves, regardless of their sexual orientation. Students are asked to walk through the door and support the LGBTQIA community.
“You don’t have to come out as gay when walking through the door. [The Coming Out Closet] is in its fourth year, and we work with Bliss Hall and try to make it bigger and better every year,” Bortner said.
The LGBT Parenting discussion is a new event added to Coming Out Week. People from each letter of the acronym “LGBT” that have families or children in the LGBT community are coming to campus to discuss their struggles and experiences of being LGBT families in Youngstown.
Get REAL, motivational speakers from Canada, will be talking about homophobia, bullying and harassment on Thursday at 5 p.m. in the Presidential Suite in Kilcawley.
“I met the group in Canada when I went to World Pride last summer, and they will be coming to be a part of our Coming Out Week for free,” Bortner said.
There was a suicide prevention speaker on Oct. 19, and there will be an asexual awareness discussion on Oct. 20 at 5 p.m. in the Jones Room in Kilcawley Center.
Brandon Gasper, YSUnity’s secretary, believes Coming Out Week is an important event on campus because it provides an open platform for LGBTQIA topics to be discussed.
“When I came to YSU, Coming Out Week put me in touch with people who were very helpful as I was trying to understand my own sexual orientation,” Gasper said. “It’s important to give students a place on campus to get this information and meet people who may identify similarly to them.”
Bortner stressed that YSUnity is the only LGBTQIA group on campus. Other campuses like Kent State, Ohio University and The Ohio State University have at least two or three organizations. YSUnity relies on Cleveland Pride for its funding. Each year they sell pop and water with 10-12 other LGBTQIA groups. The money raised is split between all participating groups.
“Last year we made about $13,000 to split between the groups, but this year, due to the event being cancelled and then rescheduled to a different date, we only raised about $4,000, which is not enough to help us out the entire year,” Bortner said.
This year there will be an optional sit-down dinner held before the Diversity Prom on Friday, which will help raise money for the organization. Tickets will be available for purchase a week in advance. They are $30 and include the prom ticket. Tickets for the prom alone are $10 a piece.
The Diversity Dinner and Diversity Prom are open to the public regardless of sexual orientation.
“It’s not just for LGBT community. This week is for the allies and straight community to educate and create awareness, so they are not scared of the LGBT community,” Bortner said. “We hope to persuade them that we aren’t bad people. We’re normal people just like everyone else. We live the exact same boring lives that everyone else lives. Give us a chance and see we are normal people.”
For Bortner, the spirit of coming out week is centered on letting oneself be vulnerable to others while being true to themselves.
“Coming out’ isn’t just about being gay,” Bortner said. “It’s about every person that you meet and that snap decision you have to make, whether or not you are going to go through that coming out process with them and to what extent. It’s about safety, security and openness.”