New group helps students come out
A new support group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students has sprung up this semester to fill what founder Brian Kline says has been a relatively empty niche on campus.
“Open” is a small discussion group focused on helping LGBT students go through the process of coming out to their friends and family. Open, which began this fall, is led by Kline and Bailey Brenton, both of whom are undergraduate students. Open is also assisted by Katie Garcia, graduate social work advisor.
“First and foremost, it’s a safe space for people to go and speak openly and honestly,” said Kline, a sophomore. “We want to encourage people to move forward with their lives, to move through the coming out process to the extent to which they feel comfortable. But by no means would we tell anybody to come out to people if they don’t feel comfortable or if they feel like they’re in some kind of danger.”
Inspiration for the group came after Kline attended a Safe Zones meeting last fall centered on sharing coming out experiences. Safe Zones is an LGBT peer-educating group on campus. Kline, who came out in high school, said the meeting made him feel welcome. He realized the experience might be even more helpful for those who had yet to come out.
“I started bringing it up at Pride meetings because I’m on Pride Exec,” he explained. “People thought it was a good idea, but no one seemed willing to take the reins. So toward the end of last year, I was realizing that if it was going to happen, I had to be the one to start it.”
Kline approached Brenton to co-lead the group, and together they approached Michael Brown, former program director for LGBT student leadership and involvement. Brown directed the two to ASQ, a flexible 10-week, 10-step group training program on which Open is now loosely based.
Open is not the first organization formed to support students coming out on campus. But past groups, mostly from Mental Health and Student Health Services, have fallen flat, according to Garcia.
“I think students kind of know what they need and it wasn’t quite that,” she said.
Both Garcia and Kline said they see the fledgling group, which has now had three meetings, as distinct from any other services provided on campus. Pride Alliance focuses on fostering an extended LGBT community—planning social events, sponsoring health-related events and political activism—but in Kline’s view it “didn’t have the capacity or it wasn’t making the capacity to facilitate small group discussions.”
“Plus,” he added, “I felt like somebody who is not comfortable about coming out at all might not feel comfortable going to an organization called ‘Pride.’”
While Open brings students who are “out” to their friends and family together with students who have never told anybody about their sexuality, the leaders of the group emphasized that coming out is a process for all.
“It’s not something that happens in a mass e-mail,” Kline said. “No matter where you go, if you choose to be out you will have to continue coming out in some capacity. Even if it is a smooth transition to college—it was for me; this is a pretty accepting school. But it still happens again, and it’s still something you have to do again and continuing. It doesn’t stop.”