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Campus groups set up ‘coming out’ closet

Mary Kate Malone | Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The clouds, cold and crowds didn’t keep freshman Cece Holley from coming out of the closet Tuesday in front of South Dining Hall.

Not as a homosexual or bisexual, but as a multi-racial female at Notre Dame.

“Yay, this makes me happy,” Holley said as she walked out of a giant orange closet through a rainbow curtain.

Holley was one of the first participants in this year’s “Come out of your closet” event, meant to promote acceptance of alternative lifestyles on campus.

“A lot of people don’t feel comfortable being multiracial or biracial, but I am and I’m proud,” Holley said. “People don’t understand what it’s like to hide a part of yourself. But on a Catholic campus we need to understand we’re together and we can’t single anyone out simply because they’re gay.”

Holley’s attitude was exactly what organizers of Notre Dame’s second annual coming out celebration were hoping for. Students representing various gay and lesbian groups on campus created the event as a means to increase dialogue about homosexuality on campus. The event was sponsored by the Graduate Student Union and the Sociology Department.

“You always have something that not a lot of people know about you that you can say to the world,” event organizer Alex Renfro said. “We’re not pressuring anyone in the closet sexually to come out in front of all these people if they don’t want to. But it serves a great purpose to show what its like for a gay person to come out in an atmosphere like Notre Dame. It’s a testament of support to the gay community.”

Organizers said very few students actually used the closet to declare their sexuality. Instead, gay and straight students alike used it as a means to express a unique or humorous aspect of themselves.

Juniors Afiya Wilkins and John Lowe came out of the closet together, announcing that they were “huge [singer] Ashlee Simpson fans.”

Other ‘coming out’ topics included “I’m a person who loses their I.D. all the time,” “I’m an Alliance ND groupie” and “I’m coming out as totally straight.”

In years past, a door frame was used to represent the act of coming out of the closet. But this year, Renfro decided to make create a mammoth 6-by-4-by-8-foot real-life closet. The philosophy major managed the job with help from a friend.

“I merely imagined the form and created it. I got a blueprint from my roommate whose dad is a homebuilder,” Renfro said. “I wanted to create an actual closet this year, to give people the isolating effect of being in a closet and then really immersing into a new world that is accepting.”

The bright orange closet drew some stares, smirks and laughter from students passing by. Still, organizers said they were surprised by the amount of positive feedback they received.

“I expected more people to ignore me,” said senior Jim Fobert, a member of the Standing Committee on Gay and Lesbian Student Needs.

Fobert was handing out flyers to students passing by and asking them to come out of their closets.

“No one has said anything negative – they’ve been telling me it’s a great idea,” he said.

Some dissenters chose to remain silent. Second year law students Ryan Bradel and Patrick Roach chose not to pick up Fobert’s pink flyers as they walked into South dining hall. They said they were dissatisfied with not only the event, but also the goal it was trying to achieve.

“The agenda is misplaced,” Bradel said. “You can’t ask a Catholic university in good conscience to tolerate this. If I was a parent, bringing my kid here, I would not be pleased. It looks like ND is tolerating a radical agenda.”

Roach said the event was not consistent with Catholic Church teaching.

“The Church recognizes that it’s a struggle and that it is not something to be proud of,” Roach said. “If I had another kind of disorder I wouldn’t walk around being happy and proud of it.”

For freshman Dave Leach, the closet and the honesty it promoted were unexpected but pleasing.

“Coming from a high school where it [homosexuality] is kept under wraps, I think it’s a good thing when people can bring out their sexuality,” Leach said. “I’m fine with it. I won’t participate, but I support anyone who does.”