COLUMBIA — For some members of the LGBTQ community, coming out is not an easy task.
Students on the OUTreach Panel at MU’s LGBTQ Resource Center on Wednesday discussed their experiences coming out.. The panel consisted of four students who talked to an audience of 15 to 20 people as part of One Mizzou Week.
“This is a safe space,” senior Taylor Dukes told the audience. “This is a place where people can be whoever they are and ask whatever they want.”
Dukes grew up in Texas. To hide her identity from family and friends, she had a "boyfriend" throughout high school.
“I wanted to stay as far away from that as possible,” she said of the LGBTQ community. But when she came to MU, she decided to be open about being a lesbian.
Dukes said her parents had difficulty adjusting after she went public about being a lesbian. “They’re much more accepting now," she said. "It’s a work in progress.”
MU senior Paul Reeves was also on the panel. He said the hardest part of growing up as a gay person was living in rural Kansas.
“It’s not a very queer-friendly place,” he said. “I didn’t know what gay meant until the sixth or seventh grade. It took years of self-loathing and depression, thinking this can’t be true. I didn’t tell anyone.”
When Reeves discovered his sexual orientation, he used the Internet to meet other gay people. When he became comfortable, he decided to come out in his high school newspaper and, later that day, on Facebook.
“I like to do things big, so I decided to come out big,” Reeves said.
Graduate student Mimi Martinez knew at a young age that she was different from her classmates, but she didn't want to accept it.
“I felt pretty alone and really isolated,” she said. “I felt I was the only person who felt this way ever, and I felt really gross and disgusting.”
When she first realized her differences stemmed from being gay, she wanted to tell someone close to her.
“I was 11, and I knew there was something different about me,” she said. “I had heard the word before, but I first told my dog 'I am gay.' She was really accepting.”
Freshman Delan Ellington realized he was gay at the end of his freshman year of high school.
“A friend of mine came up behind me and jokingly held my hand,” he said. “It was a joke, but that two seconds, and I knew I was gay. I finally admitted it to myself.”
Ellington decided to come out to his mother during his senior year of high school before he left for college.
“I knew I needed to tell her,” he said. “She is very Catholic, and I was nervous, but all she asked me was when I found out.”
Ellington has not spoken about his sexual identity with his mother since he first told her about it, but he said her support has been a relief to him.
Every member of the panel praised the accepting nature of the majority of the MU community.
“It’s really changed since I’ve gotten to campus,” Martinez said. “It’s gotten so much better. People see you as normal.”
Martinez said the only widespread negativity she’s seen lately on campus has been during home football games.
“There’s been some problems since we’ve joined the SEC,” she said. “It happens when couples are walking around on game day, and people from the visiting team will say something.”
The LGBTQ Resource Center offers help for those striving to become more comfortable with their sexual identities.
“I just can’t be in,” Reeves said. “This is just who I am. I’ve been like this since I was 5 years old. I am who I am.”
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.