SAGA celebrates Coming Out Day

Amye Buckley

Sometimes the gay and lesbian community in Joplin gets a less than a warm reception. They want to change that.

The Straight and Gay Alliance (SAGA) will host National Coming Out Day today with seminars in the Billingsly Student Center to encourage closeted gay and lesbian individuals to come out and for friends and family to show their support. This year’s theme is “The truth shall set you free.”

Rainbow “I support” ribbons will be distributed to students willing to show their support.

Don Dressel, senior field organizer from PROMO (Personal Rights of Missourians), is one of the speakers. He said this event is significant for the gay and lesbian community.

“We have proven time and time again,” said Dressel, “that the best voice we have is our own personal lives.”

Dressel believes once an individual comes out to those around them, it proves they are normal.

“Stereotypes do not hold up when people get to know us,” he said.

J. Stephen Schaivo, associate professor of computer and information science and adviser for SAGA, sees a simple purpose for the event.

“National Coming Out Day is an opportunity for those wrestling with this to come to terms with their life,” he said. “They want to feel that they are not in a hostile environment.”

Schaivo describes the group’s goal as an attempt “to establish an attitude of acceptance.”

Amanda Herren, junior elementary education major, and Odette Klue, junior K-12 art education major, know about hostile environments, but say most of what they have experienced on campus has been limited to verbal hostility, looks and slang.

They said they live with the daily reality of discussing their personal life with others. But Herren and Klue see degrees of “outness,” such as out to oneself, one’s friends, family, work and school. Although they do not always bring up the topic, coming out is something they do almost everyday.

“Coming out is not just a one-time thing,” said Kassie Turner, freshman Spanish major.

“Every time you tell someone you’re gay,” said Turner, “you come out all over again.”

In Turner’s personal experience, it was hardest to tell her best friend.

“After five years sleeping in the same bed-what’s she gonna think?” she said.

Not everyone is enthusiastic about the idea. Dr. Richard La Near, professor of finance, objects on the grounds of natural science.

“I do not want to encourage as the norm what is not the norm.” said La Near.

He views sex as strictly for procreation and views homosexuality as incompatible with that rule.

“If we made it the norm,” said La Near, “we would not be able to replace ourselves.”

But although he does not agree with the purpose of Coming Out Day, he said he would not penalize students for wearing the ribbons or for their personal beliefs.

“I don’t support bashing someone for what they do in their own bedroom,” La Near said.

Members of SAGA say they are normal and just want to be treated like everyone else.

“We’re here and we’re living normal lives,” said Daniel Boyer, junior international business major.

“We’re just like every other couple,” said Herren, while Klue nods her head. “We just happen to be two women.

What is that like?

“It’s a lot more emotional.” said Klue, and then they both laughed.

SAGA members want National Coming Out Day to be more than just an educational event; they hope to create an alliance with the local community. But they admit it can be difficult to be openly loyal to a gay friend.

“Every ally has a moment of coming out,” said Klue.