Unity E-Board Member Discusses Club, Coming Out

Unity Outreach Coordinator Karen Jesch share’s her experience coming out and how Unity can provide a community for people struggling with identity amidst the pandemic

The rainbow flag, pictured here at the 2016 annual spring Unity pride march, has become synonymous with the lgbtq+ community. It serves as a banner that proudly exclaims “we exist!”

Hi! I’m Karen, and I’m bisexual. That’s me, coming out — a topic that is particularly important this week, and is worth a little extra attention this year. As the outreach coordinator for Unity, Canisius’ club for LGBTQ+ students and allies, I’ve been doing a lot of work this past week to celebrate National Coming Out Day, celebrated on Oct. 11, the anniversary of the 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. It’s founded on the belief that the most basic form of activism is to come out and live openly, citing that homophobia thrives in silence and that once people know that they have loved ones who are LGBTQ+, they are far less likely to maintain homophobic or oppressive views.

But coming out can be hard. Even if it’s to people you know will be accepting, sometimes it’s difficult to bring yourself to say those words: “I’m [insert identity here].” I didn’t even realize I was “not straight” until my second semester here, when I started being more comfortable in my own skin and spending some time with the folks in Unity. I came out first to my roommate, then a few close friends. After that, I told the Unity general body. Telling my sister came six months later, and then my cousin after she asked me if I had a boyfriend yet — no, but I had a girlfriend. My mom found out nearly a year and a half after I first came out. What I’m getting at is that it’s a process, no matter the people you surround yourself with, and it never really stops. Additionally, I’m thankful that I’m surrounded by accepting, supportive, progressive people; I am not unaware that I’m incredibly privileged to have this environment, and that not everybody is so lucky. Even so, days like National Coming Out Day make me proud to be out, to be a member of this community and to support others like me.

This year’s National Coming Out Day is a little different, like literally everything else in the past six months. More than 40% of LGBTQ+ youth reported that the COVID-19 pandemic had affected their ability to express their LGBTQ+ identity, according to a poll released last week by Morning Consult on behalf of The Trevor Project, an organization with a 24/7 suicide hotline for LGBTQ+ youth in crisis. The Trevor Project also reported that calls to its crisis support line (which is 1-866-488-7386) have doubled from the pre-pandemic volume.

Circumstances make it more important than ever to think about days like National Coming Out Day. To recognize it not just as a day about the act of coming out, but to acknowledge the history of our community and where we are today. For example, coming out may not always be safe for LGBTQ+ people who are a part of multiple marginalized communities, or who may have an unsupportive family. So, what about those who are home with a family who doesn’t know they’re gay? Who live with being deadnamed by parents who will kick them out if they come out? Or those who rely on things like being connected to the LGBTQ+ community for the reassurance that they belong?

Unity is trying to help. We’re hosting weekly virtual meetings ranging from self-care to LGBTQ+ 101 to game nights. This week we shared stories from the community about coming out on our Instagram page (@CanisiusUnity), and joined Women and Gender Studies club for a virtual Q&A. We have events that can be participated in virtually, and other ways of connecting such as a Discord server. And we’re here for everyone: whether you’re in or out of the closet, a member of our community or an ally, we would love to have you.

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