For most in the LBGTQ community, coming out isn’t a one-time thing. With each new situation — be it a job change, a move to a different area, starting college, meeting a new person — there are the questions of if, when, where and how the subject of sexual orientation or gender identity will be broached. Or not.
Out and Proud at URI, the latest initiative of the President’s LGBTQ Commission, aims at getting the conversation started — and keeping it going.
Out and Proud at URI is a roster of LGBTQ faculty and staff and their allies, 61 members to date, who share two common goals: to promote the visibility of URI’s LGBTQ faculty and staff and to encourage mentoring, networking and community-building. Each person shares some or all of the following personal information: their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, preferred pronouns, position at URI, reason for joining the effort, and other interests. Many share personal stories, such as memories of their own experiences of coming out or their stories of loved ones who have. At its core, Out and Proud at URI wants the university community to know that URI is a safe, welcoming space for all, said Holly Nichols, clinical counselor, co-chair of the President’s LGBTQ Commission and facilitator of URI’s LBTQ Women’s Group.
“We want our students to feel safe and accepted. When they do, it decreases isolation, boosts self-esteem and helps them to thrive,” said Nichols, who, herself, came out on campus as a URI undergrad in the 1990s. “I meet with students who have been out for years and students struggling to come out. When telling another person [about their orientation] what they want to know is, ‘Is this person safe emotionally?'”
Out and Proud at URI identifies those people who are and are wanting to be there for others, Nichols said.
“We want our students to feel safe and accepted. When they do, it decreases isolation, boosts self-esteem and helps them to thrive.” Holly Nichols
“I also think that a sense of community is important and I am excited about the potential of this project to build even more of that on campus,” Nichols added.
Fellow Commission member and ally Megan Fox, URI’s assistant director of Greek life, said Out and Proud at URI is about achieving parity for all students.
“I am passionate about supporting students with their personal and professional goals. Part of this support means appreciating and recognizing everything that makes them unique. Equity for all students drives me to advocate for the LGBTQ community at URI,” said Fox. “I wish there were something like this when I was a student.”
“I strive to be a resource for LGBTQ students on campus, especially in Greek Life. Fraternities and sororities at URI are a welcoming place for the LGBTQ community, and I want to help educate our students about the diversity among their members and the URI community,” Fox added. “I am also here to talk to others about concerns they may have navigating how to be an ally to a friend or family member who is LGBTQ.”
The Out and Proud at URI initiative is just the latest of several significant efforts by the President’s LGBTQ Commission, which have included the Department of Housing‘s adoption of an LGBTQ-friendly, roommate-matching program; the expansion of the number of gender-neutral bathrooms on campus; and the establishment of equity in benefits for domestic partners.