The process of coming out is a difficult one whether it begins in high school or in college.
Fellow Bobcats share their stories of coming out and how their time at Ohio University has altered their journey. According to statistics, one in 10 people identify as LGBT. With a community of roughly 20,000 people, virtually 2,000 Bobcats identify as LGBT.
Senior Kaila Benford came out her junior year at OU.
“I struggled in coming out; it really wasn’t clean cut,” Benford said.
It all began when Benford told her boyfriend of five years that she was a lesbian. She then told her parents, who were skeptical but loving.
“I feel like it was my first time really just standing up to my parents,” she recalled.
Finally, to avoid constantly clarifying her orientation she came out to all family and friends in a Facebook status.
“I came out but I really did not solidify it until I posted it on Facebook,” she said.
Benford chuckled at the idea of coming out in high school. She said she was absolutely terrified and she fought to conceal her identity.
The Bible contains a passage in which homosexuality is regarded a sin punishable by death. As a Christian, she feared for her relationship with God.
“I just studied the Bible and prayed and studied the Bible more,” Benford said. “But sometimes I feel like I get chastised just for being a Christian.”
Benford formerly attended CRU, a Christian crusaders organization whose mission is to spread the word of God. She reflected her experience there positively, however noted that there was still a lack of a sense of belonging.
Benford said an issue she experienced here on campus stemmed from others constant attempts to put a label on her.
She recalled instances of being out and conversing with men who, upon being told she is a lesbian, instantaneously insisted she must mean that she is bisexual.
“I can see it in their face! They have a moment where they go, ‘No, no. You’re bisexual,’” retorted Benford. “That’s really annoying to me when people put a label on me after all the struggle of coming out.”
She has now completely embraced her identity and is pursuing theater performance.
“I know what I am, I know. I don’t need to tell myself in the mirror every day,” said Benford.
Freshman Cameron Thornton came out in high school and has found a “home away from home” in the LGBT Center.
Thornton initially came out to his grandmother because he was fearful of what his parents’ reaction would be.
After receiving support and encouragement from his grandmother, he proceeded to sit his mother down and reveal that he was bisexual. His parents were very supportive.
“I’ve had relationships with guys, with girls and they’ve been supportive with either one,” said Thornton. “It’s been a good experience.”
While his overall experience at OU has been positive, in large part due to the presence of the LGBT Center, Thornton noted that he has had a few encounters with fellow Bobcats who refrained from associating with him due to his sexual orientation.
He expressed an understanding that often it is simply what people are raised to believe.
One friend told him he couldn’t accept him because it went against everything the Bible said.
“You know I understand. I’m not going to impose myself on them,” Thornton said.
“One guy thought I was going to hit on him because of it,” Thornton said of another unaccepting friend.
He expressed his understanding that not everyone will accept him as he is. He regarded it as a normal consequence of coming out.
Cameron said he has found a second family in the LGBT Center. He highly praised the sense of safety and stability it provides for students.
“The LGBT Center is a great place to go. You’re gonna feel safe there no matter what,” Thornton said.
Professional counselor and recent OU alum Gerard Grigsby came out his freshman year of college.
“When I got to college, I recognized that I existed differently in the world and I didn’t want to have to hide that,” he said.
Grigsby attended undergraduate school in Atlanta and proceeded to transfer to OU to receive a Master’s of Education in Counseling. He graduated in the fall of 2013. He is currently a professional counselor at the campus Counseling and Psychological Services. Grigsby is also an affiliate of the counseling center in residential housing in Jefferson Hall.
He began to inform his peers at school of his orientation within his first few weeks of college. He received full support from college friends and past high school friends.
Within the last week of his winter break, he began to work up the courage to share his identity with his father.
“I just kind of blurted it out,” Grigsby said. “’Dad, your son’s a homosexual and he has a boyfriend.”’
His father expressed his lack of enthusiasm about his son’s newfound identity, but he never lost an ounce of love for his son.
“My father, he wasn’t strongly opposed, but I think he grieved the loss of the life he expected for me,” he recalled.
The remainder of his family had similar reactions to that of his father.
“They told me they didn’t necessarily agree with my lifestyle but they were very supportive, accepting, and loving,”he said. “I respected, you know, their views and beliefs about the matter but they also loved and respected me.”
Although he’s known of his identity for a large portion of his life, Grigsby initially identified as bisexual when he began to come out. He made the decision to “throw the bi label out the window” when he found himself in a promising relationship with a male.
“Looking back I realize that I was afraid to let go of that piece of some heterosexual identity,” he said.
As a 24-year-old male who is immensely comfortable with his identity now, he recalled trying times when he was struggling to accept and define himself.
“I fought very hard to suppress my feeling. I remember praying and asking God to change me. I remember lying in my bed one night and being so angry that I cried, ‘God why didn’t you give me a brother.’ I just wished I had an older brother who would have roughhoused with me and taught me how to play football and make me straight,” Grigsby said.
Despite the fact that he has been out for years, Grigsby said he still has straight male friends who treat him differently. He said his friends openly discuss their romantic interests, however they are uncomfortable discussing his.
As someone who has been out for years now, Grigsby feels very comfortable on campus and commended the LGBT Center. However, he noted that he would like to see more options for gay grad students and staff.
Director of the LGBT Center, Delfin Bautista recognized several obstacles in the process of coming out.
Bautista explained that sometimes it’s easier for students to come out in college because they are free to be who they are. Often when students come out in high school they are the only one, therefore there is a strong feeling of isolation.
They noted that coming out in high school poses a different set of challenges. One big challenge is that they student may be out but they have yet to experience a relationship or sexual encounter of any type that may help solidify that identity.
“Coming here, yes they’ve come out, but now there’s a whole new set of challenges, opportunities, doors to be opened that perhaps in high school they didn’t have,” said Bautista.
While college allows students to explore their identities, there may still be restrictions on where and when that identity can be expressed.
Bautista mentioned that it could be very challenging for students to come out to peers involved in Greek life, athletics or religious groups.
“The fears and risks of coming out are very much present here,” said Bautista.
The daunting question students face is, “Do I come out at home too?” said Bautista. In college there is the opportunity to be out and proud but also maintain a completely separate identity at home.
“That is the number one question: Do we come out to our families?” said Bautista.
Bautista promotes safety and comfort first. They ask students if having that conversation with parents is something they are ready to do. If it gets heated, they encourage students to have a back-up plan.
Another challenge members of the LGBT community face is the question of where to socialize. OU does not offer places such as gay, lesbian, drag or trans bars for students to feel comfortable in. It becomes difficult for students to find a community other than the LGBT Center that they are comfortable in.
Coming out is a challenge in itself, one which drastically increases if the student is one of color.
“Unfortunately, our movement has not done a good job of including students of color,” said Bautista, “That’s my goal…It will.”
Megan Villegas, Graduate Assistant of the LGBT Center acknowledged the advantages of coming out in college.
Villegas explained that when a student comes out in high school a different set of obstacles emerge. In high school, the student generally must share their identity with their family, if they do not they must attempt to suppress it. Often the student may be underage but identified with a sexual orientation, which can be a very uncomfortable topic. Lastly, students may face a close-knit home community and may struggle to find a community in which they can be comfortable.
College provides students with freedom to express their identity. Finding a community is not such a challenge because communities like the LGBT Center already exist.
“There’s some anonymity in college that maybe doesn’t happen in high school,” said Villegas.
In college, students are able to choose who they share their identity with. Some students may choose to tell one group of friends and not another. Many students are able to embrace their identity at college even if they are not out at home.
The LGBT community at OU is generally received very positively. However, verbal harassment does occur on occasion. The presence of verbal harassment on campus has caused some students of the LGBT community to feel uncomfortable.
“Especially those who have alternative gender presentations or don’t fit a male/female binary, they don’t always feel comfortable being out and visible,” Villegas said.
Villegas also expressed desire for more LGBT friendly organizations on campus. While organizations may not be “actively unsafe,” students still may be hesitant to join if they do not see that it is a SafeZone.
“Not everyone is into glitter and rainbows and pride parades. Some people just want to do normal things and be surrounded by people who are supportive of them,” Villegas said. “Ideally, I would love for people to be more open about whether or not they are welcoming of the LGBT to help alleviate that sort of lag that some students experience.”
Ohio University LGBT Center is the only one within a 100-mile radius. The presence of the LGBT community provides students with a safe space to freely express their identity. However, there is still room for improvement in the Bobcat community to aid the mission of the LGBT Center.