• National Coming Out Day falls on a Sunday this year, but will be marked on the WPI campus in the days leading up to the event. The date of the annual civil awareness effort, October 11, is no accident: it’s the anniversary of the 1987 National March on Washington for lesbian and gay rights.
On campus, The Alliance, WPI’s support network for gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, asexual, or intersex students—or those who are questioning how they identify in terms of sex or gender—works to raise awareness about the LGBTQ+ community. Though the Alliance has been at WPI for many years, it has seen a resurgence of sorts, says Alliance president Patrick L., in terms of activity and visibility.
A sophomore biomedical engineering major from New York, Patrick didn’t choose WPI based on the fact that the Alliance existed here on campus. But it certainly was a bonus.
“I first looked for a really good engineering school,” says Patrick, who is transgender. “Then I Googled ‘WPI’ and ‘transgender’ and things came up. I thought, ‘This is awesome.’ Many schools are just ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’” in terms of inclusion.”
Patrick came to WPI, joined the Alliance in his freshman year, and is president of the group this year. There are about 25 active, regular members, with many others part of the group as well.
“We try to do our best to educate the rest of campus,” he says. “There is a very big LBGTQ+ community here, bigger than usual for an engineering school.”
FRONT AND CENTER
For National Coming Out Day 2013, the Alliance set up a table offering information about the group, and set up a door on a door frame at the Fountain. Students are invited to take a pen and pledge to make WPI a safe place for people to come out. “Our door had a lot of signatures,” Patrick says.
This year, the Alliance will do the same, with staffed information tables on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.
Saturday night at 7, students are welcome to come to Salisbury Laboratories Room 402 to share coming-out stories, he says. “We set it into a circle, to be very inclusive,” Patrick says of the room arrangement. Students who feel comfortable speaking can talk about the process, whether they are at the beginning, middle, or end, or if they haven’t come out at all, he says. All are welcome. Last year, he found that some students told stories of other things in their lives as well. Some just came to listen.
“We’d love for anyone to come in” to the Saturday night of sharing, he says.
There is never one, cookie-cutter LGBTQ+ story, Patrick says, and all students, whether straight or LGBTQ+, can learn from others. “There is a lot to consolidate into one narrative. It’s a collection of stories and everyone experiences things differently with the people they are with—whether family, friends, or co-workers.”
For instance, Patrick says, he is almost entirely out at school. At home, he is not, though some members of the Alliance do not know this, he admits. “The reality is, it would be very dangerous for me to come out at home.” Patrick met an Alliance member who is in the exact opposite situation, out at home but not at school.
“Listening to other people and seeing what they went through helps you to be mindful of what to say,” when proceeding with the process of coming out, he says.
Patrick says the Alliance doesn’t seek to represent the WPI LGBTQ+ community—he acknowledges that they are all engineers and scientists first and foremost—but rather, to promote activism. The Alliance looks to involve members and invite them to serve on committees and play an active role. “We don’t want to be controlling, we don’t know everything,” he says of the group’s officers.
Like Coming Out Day, the Alliance participates in the Worcester Gay Pride Parade and Festival, National Transgender Day of Remembrance, and Asexual Awareness Week.
A sense of community is needed no matter who you are. But when coming out, support is even more important, Patrick says. “There is something to be learned from everyone else’s experience.”