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SAGA members relive coming out experiences

Nicole Taylor | Wednesday, October 10, 2007

On the eve of National Coming Out Day this Thursday, Saint Mary’s students, alumni and professors relived their personal coming-out-of-the-closet experiences at Dalloway’s coffeehouse Tuesday night.

The panel event, hosted by the Straight and Gay Alliance (SAGA), discussed ways in which the Saint Mary’s community can be more tolerant and understanding of its lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning (LGBTQ) members.

SAGA president and senior Sara Nielsen, math professor Mary Porter and 1998 Saint Mary’s graduate Jennifer Warner spoke as panelists, telling the audience about their own experiences coming out to family and friends – and their subsequent experiences at school or in the workplace.

“My freshman year I came to Saint Mary’s knowing I was bisexual,” Nielsen said. “[Since I came out] I have a lot of friends on campus, both straight and gay, and most have been very accepting. I think the people at Saint Mary’s are loving, kind, and trusting people.”

Warner gave advice to students who are thinking about coming out.

“Your coming out is at your own pace and you have to be O.K. with it [before you can actually go through with it]. Until you are comfortable with who you are, you won’t be comfortable in the world,” Warner said.

All three panelists spoke of how far the College has come in its acceptance of homosexuals on campus.

“Twelve years ago, when I came here I had to stay closeted so I didn’t lose my job,” Porter said. “I think a lot has changed since then.”

Porter, who eventually came out after receiving tenure, said that while Saint Mary’s has a non-discrimination policy – which can apply to sexuality – she thinks the College could go even further and offer benefits, such as healthcare, for the life partners of homosexual employees.

Another way to advance the overall inclusion of LGBTQ members in the community, the panelists said, is to discontinue the derogatory use of the word “gay.”

“We can’t go around hurting other [people] in our community with things you say inadvertently. Listen to what you are saying,” Nielsen said.

SAGA sponsors other events throughout the year including film screenings on campus, participation in the National Day of Silence and bringing Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) speakers to campus.