UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Rarely is Penn State as colorful as it is during National Coming Out Week, held this year Oct. 12-16. There are streamers and a rainbow balloon arch in the hub, students sporting rainbow suspenders and neon bowties, and a whole lot of love.
Day one was the HUB takeover, and the usual crowds of students passing through were offered free hugs, smiles, and all kinds of pamphlets. The rest of the week featured prominent speakers within the LGBT community, discussions, and a Pride Rally in front of Old Main.
Months of work goes into creating this bright celebration, as the planning started in early summer, said Sonya Wilmoth, assistant director of the LGBTQA Student Resource Center at Penn State. Actually, even before that — she booked this year’s speakers last spring.
“I’ve had three freak-outs about Todrick Hall already,” she said, laughing. “Students are excited for our speakers. It’s a kind of ‘edgytainment;’ it appeals to a large group.”
Todrick Hall is a YouTube star, among other achievements, who spoke at the HUB on Monday, and he was joined at Penn State by "Orange is the New Black" actress Lea DeLaria, who spoke Wednesday evening after attending the Pride Rally at Old Main earlier in the day.
“It’s one of the ways that we increase awareness,” said Wilmoth of National Coming Out Week, which is designed to promote awareness of the resources Penn State offers to members of the LGBTQA community, as well as Penn State's commitment to providing an inclusive environment for LGBTQA students.
Really, that’s what the whole week is about, said John Gilbert, president of the LGBTA Student Roundtable.
“It’s a chance to get more exposure to the community, to let students know that it’s safe to be out and that there are resources to help,” Gilbert said.
This is especially important to the junior because he didn’t have any kind of support in high school.
“When I came here, I wanted to build that, to create more support for the rest of the community, because I went without it,” Gilbert said.
Providing that support is something the LGBTQA Student Resource Center prides itself on.
“People may be in different stages of coming out, and we’re here for all of them,” Wilmoth said. “In the class I teach, I’ve had students tell me that they knew we were available, but they just didn’t need us at that point.”
Gilbert counted 10 different clubs that served the LGBT community, and most of them were at the HUB takeover. In addition, University Health Services had a booth.
There are doctors at UHS specializing in LGBT concerns, including partner coverage and confidentiality, said Megan Folmar, UHS marketing manager. Additionally, UHS is taking steps to help transgender students feel comfortable.
In contrast to the UHS booth, there was Outlaw’s, or Out in the Law for students in the Dickinson School of Law.
“Love Won — Now What?” the rainbow lettering on the poster read, the rest of the space taken up by maps.
OutLaw president Brett Atanasio explained that the maps represented legal protections in each of the states.
“Obergefell v. Hodges went through the Supreme Court, so we know we have the right to get married, but what about others?" he said. “Equally, or more, important are rights to housing, employment, accommodations, etc. These protections are really only available in 19 states plus the District of Colombia.”
Atanasio said he wants the entire Penn State community to know their rights, here at Penn State and around the country.
“It’s an awesome week, and well worth the stress behind the scenes,” Wilmoth said.