‘It generally is of benefit to be out’

Bobby Shipman

The experience of “coming out of the closet” varies tremendously from person to person.

Stephanie Cunningham, the outreach coordinator and staff therapist at the Counseling Center, said that depending on where a person is at geographically, developmentally and the people they are surrounded by factors into their story.

“Hopefully, if there’s any theme, it would be that it’s a positive and worthwhile experience,” she said.

In honor of National Coming Out Day, the Counseling Center will have a table Friday in the main corridor at Rice Library. They will be passing out name tags as part of a campaign to increase LGBTQ and ally visibility on campus.

“I have had to accept that it is going to be a very slow process making this happen,” Cunningham said. “People can write on them whatever they want to write, so whether they want to be out about their sexual orientation, or their gender identity, or they want to come out as an ally – whatever the case may be.”

The idea is that people on Friday will wear the name tags all day to class, work or wherever else they happen to be on campus, she said.

Research has shown that there are health discrepancies between minority populations and those that are considered majority, she said. Those in minority populations, whether they are African American, gay or something else, consistently experience worse health outcomes.

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, children who grow up gay, lesbian, bisexual, gender-non-comforming or gender discordant experience unique developmental challenges and are at-risk for certain mental health problems correlated with stigma and prejudice.

“From the research I have seen, when it comes to the LGBT population, it generally is of benefit to be out,” Cunningham said.

She said individuals who come out are mentally healthier.

“They tend to have fewer issues,” Cunningham said. “Less depression and suicidality; less anxiety; less difficulty with things like disorder eating.”

Since she began working at USI nearly four years ago, she has found USI to be remarkably positive and supportive considering its location in the U.S., she said.

“It is positive to be out assuming that the person is somewhere where it is safe for them to do so,” she said.

Cunningham said members of the LGBT community whom she has interacted with have been able to find a sense of community on campus, whether it is formal or informal.

“I’m really happy with where we’re at as an institution and excited to see how we continue to move that forward,” she said.

Resources for the LGBT community include Safe Zone Training, Students Advocating for Equality (formerly known as Spectrum), a student organization and the Tri-State Alliance, a community organization.

“It’s a process, it’s not just a single event,” Cunningham said about coming out. “That process starts with coming out to yourself.”

It is never OK to out somebody without their permission, she said.

“It’s always that person’s decision as to whether or not they feel ready to be out,” Cunningham said. “They may not even be out to themselves yet.”