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Student reflects on implications of sexuality

| Monday, November 2, 2015

As part of the Justice Friday series, a Saint Mary’s student discussed the implications of being openly gay as a college student and explored ways to make the College a place where all students feel safe to be themselves.

Junior Maranda Pennington started the discussion by reminding everyone that coming out is an individual decision and providing some background about the LGBTQ community.

“I want to make sure you understand that even though I’m going to be discussing coming out and why I think it’s important, I’m not urging everybody that is closeted to come out, because it’s such a personal thing,” she said. “You have to feel safe and ready for it … but I do want people who are at that point or who are going to be at that point to feel empowered. I would never want somebody who chooses to conceal their identity feel to ashamed because they’re not out.”

Pennington said the word queer has been reclaimed as an umbrella term for the LGBTQ community. 

“Coming out is admitting to yourself that you do identify as LGBTQ,” she said. “ … The first step is coming out to yourself, and then you can choose keep building on that and disclose it to other people.

“There is no uniform way to disclose this aspect of your identity,” she said. “For some people, I chose to write a letter to them because I was too uncomfortable to say it in person. … It’s continuous. Throughout my entire life I’m probably going to have to come out to people several times.”

Coming out can be necessary for several reasons, Pennington said, ranging from personal emotions to visibility for the LGBTQ community.

“It’s important to be true to yourself and feelings,” she said. “Concealing something so personal and vital to who you are has detrimental effects. It turns you into the master of lying and hiding how you feel. It can also take away energy from other aspects of your life.”

Pennington shared her own coming out story.

“Growing up, I always felt like I had to be two people all the time.” she said. “ … I was super involved and successful. But I had another side of me. I became so good at hiding that side of me. No one knew the level of anxiety I had and how generally unhappy I was.

“I didn’t really let myself figure out my sexual orientation, or even think about it, until my freshman year at Saint Mary’s. My shame, anxiety and internalized homophobia made this probably the most difficult thing I ever had to go through. I felt terrified and honestly thought being gay would make me unhappy forever.”

Pennington said she was able to tell a professor, who recommended a counselor to her. From there, she was able to slowly come out to her friends and family.

“You continue to get strength as you tell more people,” she said. “ … The love and support I received was so overwhelming that it made the rejection I faced less scary.”

Pennington said people can make a difference by educating people on different perspectives, showing empathy and kindness and embracing and empowering each other, regardless of any aspect of our identity.

“I feel like I have this new confidence, a weight just lifted off my shoulders,” she said. “I’m more comfortable speaking up when people say something offensive or homophobic. Some days, that does take a lot out of me, but other days I feel pretty empowered by it.

A good addition to the College, Pennington said, would be an LGBTQ resource center where those struggling with their identity could go for help. Pennington also suggested covering more LGBTQ topics during faculty and administration training as a way to help make Saint Mary’s a more welcoming environment.

“The LGBTQ community at Saint Mary’s needs more visibility on campus,” she said. “It’s hard to feel validated and welcomed somewhere when your identity is not even acknowledged as existing. You feel pretty invisible all the time.”

The Justice Friday series takes place at Saint Mary’s every Friday in conference rooms A and B in the Student Center from noon to 12:50 p.m.

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