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Pride Center celebrates national Coming Out Day

Published on October 18, 2023

Pride Center celebrates national Coming Out Day

Rachel Betts (left) and Nicole Potestivo

Eastern Connecticut State University’s Pride Center celebrated National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11 with historical banners, face painting and free stickers and flags. The event marked a day of pride and visibility for LGBTQ+ students on campus, which is especially important as tensions surrounding LGBTQ rights rise around the country.

Senior Daniel Gallipoli described what the event meant to him. “It shows LGBTQ+ students and faculty that they are supported and accepted by the University and that Eastern has their back,” he said. “Many queer people, including myself, have struggled to find places where they feel confident and comfortable being ‘out,’ and to know that our University wants to celebrate this holiday means a lot. It’s one of many important steps in creating a safe space for queer people, especially queer youth.”

Graduate intern Rachel Betts said, “[Queer] students need to know it’s okay for people like them to exist.” 

“We want students to know they’re not alone,” added Nicole Potestivo, coordinator of the Pride Center.

Potestivo recalled her own coming out experience. “It’s so constant,” she said, noting that coming out can bring up hard conversations with those who may not be aware of her identity. Because it is assumed that a person is cisgender and heterosexual until they make it otherwise known, Potestivo said that she has had to code-switch, or make her queer identity less identifiable, in social situations.

Gallipoli echoed these sentiments: “Coming out was extremely important to me. It marked a moment in my life where I felt comfortable being my whole, authentic self to my friends, my family and the world.”

The Pride Center provides a safe space on campus for students to explore their gender and sexual identity. Students can speak with a professional in confidence, with their privacy being secure as they work through their feelings and build the confidence to present themselves comfortably to the world. They can also use the ‘open closet’ – a place where different gender expressions can be experimented with and respected.

The long-standing stigma around LGBTQ+ identities has had a profound impact on queer individuals. As acceptance increases, many continue to feel judgment around their gender or sexuality, even if it comes from themselves as a result of hearing conversations about the topic throughout their life.

“Coming out signified my own self-acceptance, something I struggled with for a long time,” Gallipoli said. “I came out gradually, expanding the amount of people that knew whenever I felt ready, and I’m very lucky to say that everyone I have come out to so far has been extremely supportive, something that has made it so much easier to be comfortable with myself in many different spaces.” 

Queer individuals can see themselves in the many communities started by the Pride Center. These include TRANScending, an affinity group for transgender students, and groups for queer BIPOC students. In the works is a group for nonbinary individuals. In these groups, students can engage in discussion surrounding their personal experiences and prevalent issues to the LGBTQ+ community.

Betts said they were excited to see so many students engaging with them. “It’s really comforting,” they said. “Maybe it’s their first time coming to this space. We want them to feel seen.”

These different aspects of the Pride Center have made it a welcoming space on campus since it was established in November 2016 – this year marking its seventh anniversary. 

Written by Marcus Grant