This past week, the University of New Hampshire (UNH) celebrated National Coming Out Week on campus to honor those who have come out as queer, queer individuals who cannot safely come out to their families, and those who want to be supportive of the community and expand their allyship.
“I feel as though recognizing and celebrating Coming Out Week is important for the LGBTQIA+ community here on campus as well as helping to educate folks who do not identify within the community to help them become better-aspiring allies,” said Butterfield-Ferrell. “While we believe visibility in our community is important, not everyone is able to be out as LGBTQIA+ because of various reasons. Thus, having some visibility through supportive programs is essential to supporting everyone.”
The celebrations included several events such as Warm Cookies and Coming Out Stories, a Union Court Trivia night, and Diversify Your Tech: LGBTQIA+ Friendly Practices for Online Platforms, which focused on internet search strategies for finding LGBTQIA+ materials in libraries and online.
Dawn Zitney, wellness educator and counselor at Health &Wellness, hosted the week’s Mindfulness for Sexual Wellbeing event, which educated people on mindfulness practices and meditation techniques for being fully present in the moment, especially during intimacy.
“The brain is the largest sex organ and can be very active with chatter during intimacy and sex with self or others. Having the ability to notice the thoughts and let them pass by so that you can focus on the present moment can help increase your sexual satisfaction,” said Zitney.
“At Health & Wellness we work towards helping students with their wellness by providing a safe and affirming place to seek medical care and wellness education,” said Zitney. “It is an honor to serve all students but especially LGBTQIA+ students who may have had previous negative experiences with medical providers [so they’re] reluctant to seek medical care because of how they feared they would be seen and treated.”
Samantha Ansart, sexual well-being intern at Health & Wellness helped lead the Film & Chat: Break the Silence: Reproductive & Sexual Health Stories event along with Women’s and Gender Studies coordinator, Avary Thorne. According to Ansart, the film was also part of the month of Sextober, which seeks to educate people about safe and different types of sex and break the stigma around talking about it.
The film highlighted personal stories of women and their sexual and reproductive experiences. It was followed by an open chat led by Ansart and Thorne.
“I hoped that it would let people realize that you never know what’s going on in someone else’s life. There are so many people who walk by you, and you don’t know what they just went through and I really do think that people took that away from it,” said Ansart.
The week ended with a National Coming Out Week Open Mic event, led by Jill Seale, chair of Alliance. According to Seale, Alliance is UNH’s primary LGBTQIA+ organization. The open mic event featured poem readings and stories both humor-filled and poignant about people’s queer and coming out experiences.
According to Seale, a lot of different people who showed up, including allies, transgender, non-conforming individuals, and other queer individuals who wanted to share their experiences. “It was just really nice hearing everyone’s stories,” she said.
“I feel as though if it weren’t for groups like us, a lot of people wouldn’t know that queer people are on campus,” Seale added. “Alliance is welcome to everyone. You don’t have to be queer. You can be an ally, you can be someone who just wants to learn. Most of our members are queer but a lot of times we talk about topics where people who aren’t queer can come and learn and support the community.”
Seale emphasized the importance of educating oneself about LGBTQIA+ experiences to be better allies and in addition, speaking up on behalf of queer individuals when hearing derogatory words, slurs, or misgendering of peoples’ pronouns. “We hear stuff all the time,” said Seale. “Calling that out as you see it definitely helps support the community and I know it can be kind of hard but it’s really important to us.”
Seale said that telling people your pronouns when you introduce yourself can be another great way to help support the LGBTQIA+ community.
Beyond National Coming Out Week, the Beauregard Center also works to organize opportunities including the Safe Zones program which educates people on how to be better allies, Gender Identity Awareness Week which takes place in November, as well as Gaypril: Campus Pride month which takes place in April, according to Butterfield-Ferrell.
“My personal goal is to continue educating myself, asking questions, reaching out of my comfort zone, to continue on my journey as an aspiring ally,” said Zitney. “I just want to make sure that we don’t stop honoring and celebrating students in the LGBTQIA+ community after the week is over. We go to keep the momentum and care going!”