A big rainbow flag flapped proudly from a tent outside Memorial Hall Thursday morning, contrasting against the gray metal fences and mounds of upturned dirt that surround the Science Center lawn.
Fluttering in the wind, it reminded passersby that Thursday was National Coming Out Day.
Office of BGLTQ Student Life intern Griffin T. Gaffney ’13 said that keeping the flag up had been a constant struggle against the wind. “But we made it work,” he said. “And our flag was flying high for everyone to see.”
Tabling outside Annenberg was just one of a series of events hosted by queer organizations on campus to mark National Coming Out Day, a tradition started in 1988 to mark the anniversary of the first March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights the year before.
“It’s not necessarily a day when people come out,” Gaffney said, noting that people often misconstrue the purpose of the celebration. “It’s meant to show that the College is a safe space and that there are people who are going through and have gone through the process of coming out.”
In preparation for this day, groups ranging from the Men’s baseball team to the Undergraduate Council to the Harvard University Police Department took photos in support of queer students with the iconic rainbow flag.
Director of BGLTQ Student Life Van Bailey said that this was an obvious testament to the supportive atmosphere that exists on campus for queer students.
“National Coming Out Day is a day of celebration and rich dialogue,” Bailey said, sporting several rainbow-colored pins throughout the day. “It’s a representation of freedom, civility, and visibility.”
This was the first year the newly-created Office of BGLTQ Student Life took part in planning the festivities.
In past years, Queer Students and Allies took charge of organizing the activities for the day, which mainly consisted of tabling in front of the Science Center. “
Last year, we also held a candlelight vigil for students who had lost their lives due to suicide,” QSA co-chair Roland Yang ’14 said. “It was a memorial as well as a tribute to National Coming Out Day.” Yang said, together with the Office of BGLTQ, the QSA arranged for an event where students could tell their coming out stories this year, inspired by an open mic coffeehouse they hosted during Visitas.
“We haven’t had a safe space to share our stories until this year, and a large part of that is because of the BGLTQ office,” Yang said. At the event, students shared personal experiences and stories related to coming out. Most of the stories shared had an element of humor to them.
“I embraced the awkwardness that comes with coming out,” Brianna Suslovic ’16 said, eliciting laughs from those who had gathered to listen to her story. “I even came out to all the girls in my gym class while we were in the locker room.”
Yet for others, coming out had a darker tone. When Francisco D. Hernandez ’13 told his mother that he was gay, he “curled up into a fetal position” on her lap and listened as she cried.
“I asked her why she was crying and she told me that people were going to be cruel to me,” Hernandez said. “But she told me that I would always have her and could live with her until I was 80. She died just a few months later.”
Institutionalizing QueerTen years ago, in response to student activism, Harvard created the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response. Three years later, after student demands, it inaugurated the modern Harvard College Women’s Center. Most recently, just two years ago, Harvard funded the Office of BGLTQ Student Life, also in response to organized student outcry