WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) – In the middle of the student center at Wilkes University – a symbol of pride. Student’s hand-drawn flags representing their gender identity or sexual orientation were put on display in honor of National Coming Out Day. It’s to spread awareness and encourage students to embrace who they are.
“In our current social and political climate, it is not always safe to say things about who we are in public,” said Wilkes student Laura Kessler.
National Coming Out Day started 29 years ago on the anniversary of the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay rights. Experts say because the HIV/AIDS epidemic significantly impacted members of the LGBTQ community, they felt the health issue was not getting the attention it deserved.
Advocates say there has been progress for members of the LGBTQ community in recent years – from marriage equality to adoption rights. At the same time, she says there have been setbacks. A memo signed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week, indicated the administration may be reconsidering how discrimination, based on gender identity, is defined. Students say these kinds of rhetoric make “coming out” – difficult.
“With this political climate, people feel emboldened to be cruel, they can be aggressive,” said Wilkes student Elyse Guziewicz.
Students say National Coming Out Day serves as the perfect platform to bring about positive change.
“It’s very motivating for people to take a step forward and talk about their experiences,” said Elliot Demesa.