It can be frightening, but it can also be freeing.
On National Coming Out Day, some Central Oregonians found ways to show their support for the LGBTQ+ community.
Members of the LGBTQ+ and Friends club at Central Oregon Community College set up a safe space in the Multicultural Center, providing resources, snacks, and ways for visitors to express their coming out experiences through art.
Some of the students took that step years ago.
“I just kind of surprised my mom with my coming out,” said club member Dionisio Bravo. “We were just in the car, I was already in a relationship with a guy and this was in middle school. It was very much like a movie response, she said I’ll always support you no matter what, you’re my son, it doesn’t matter.”
For others, it’s more of a recent memory.
“I have known that I was queer since middle school,” said Mal Sotelo, the student leader of the club. “I think that I kind of told my family majorly about last year, and they were really accepting about it which was really good.”
The safe space they hoped to provide on Monday was one that the students themselves had needed at various times in their lives.
“For awhile I really felt like I was different, I was weird, because of all the judgements that my school and society placed on me,” Sotelo said.
“I lost some friends, a lot of people didn’t talk to me anymore when it was more of a known thing in my middle school,” Bravo added.
Jamie Nesbitt of Out Central Oregon, an organization that provides resources and puts on events to support the queer community, said it hasn’t always been easy to take that step in our area.
“I’ve been here seven years and a lot of my friends have been here much longer than that, say 20 years ago. I think it was a bit scary to be in Central Oregon 20 years ago and to live your life fully as an LGBTQ individual,” Nesbitt said. “But I can say from my own experiences, only being here for seven years, that that has changed dramatically.”
Although Coming Out Day is now nationally recognized, Nesbitt wanted to make it clear that it’s an opportunity, not a requirement.
“National Coming Out Day is not there to force anybody to come out,” he said. “People need to come out when they’re comfortable with it and not forced to come out based on a national day of recognition, but I think having this day honoring that messaging and that process gives people an opportunity to pause and think about it, like oh, well, maybe I can come out or maybe I can really start thinking about coming out.”
Increased acceptance doesn’t always mean it’s easy.
“I would say be open minded and be willing to listen, and I would say also help fight for LGBTQ rights because being an ally makes it a lot easier for people to be open with you,” Sotelo said.
Bravo said if he was in the position where he was afraid to open up to others, he would take a step back to think.
“If I do lose these people, if this information comes out, were they really someone that is worth all of my effort and energy and emotions of being friends with, versus someone who will completely accept me as the person that I am?” he said.
Nesbitt described his decision to come out as gay in college as ‘complete freedom’.
“You’re not carrying this burden of trying to act in public or in front of your friends and family as somebody that you’re really not,” he said. “That weight is lifted off your shoulders and then you can really begin to live your full self, the life that you were intended to live.”
He said that those looking to support their friends and family in the coming out process should be gentle and recognize how difficult and frightening it can be to share that information with someone.
Out Central Oregon co-hosted a youth film event on Tuesday evening at the Tower Theater, which also focused on the topic of suicidal ideation.
PFLAG also hosted a National Coming Out Day event at Nativity Lutheran Church in Bend.
For more information on upcoming events and resources, visit https://outcentraloregon.com.