UPDATED: Oct. 8, 2012, at 3:54 p.m.
When Brandy A. L. Machado ’14 began her freshman year, she told herself she would never come out of the closet.
“I distanced myself from people. I thought that every person I got close to is another person who might find out,” she said.
Raised in Lompoc, Calif., where she felt the gay community was “nonexistent,” Machado was used to hiding that she was a lesbian. At Harvard, she was still hesitant to reveal her sexual orientation. It took Machado an entire semester to decide that she would finally share her secret. She attended her first BGLTQ event in February of her freshman year—and at that first event, she met all her blockmates.
“I had an epiphany all of a sudden and said to myself: ‘All right, I’m going to do this,’” Machado said. “I told myself that I could use one less stress in second semester.”
Machado’s freshman experience was characteristic of the BGLTQ student experience just two years ago. Current upperclassmen say that they had to actively seek opportunities to meet people and to access resources for BGLTQ students. Despite the existence of spaces on campus like the Women’s Center, Contact, and Room 13, many students were unaware of the counseling services that could be found there.
However, those upperclassmen as well as a new College-funded office have strived to change circumstances for the Class of 2016. Thanks to the recent opening of the BGLTQ Office for Student Life and the restructuring of Queer Students and Allies, freshmen say they feel more comfortable coming out than their recent predecessors did.
“There’s a good vibe on campus for BGLTQ students,” Javier F. Aranzales ’16 said. “I instantly felt comfortable and decided that I was going to be myself.”
Even before students started flocking to Harvard for the start of the school year, many of them had already met each other online. Aranzales and fellow freshman Thomas V. Earle ’16 started a Facebook group over the summer specifically for BGLTQ students in the Class of 2016, an idea that previous classes never tried.
“We want to make this a support group off the bat for everyone in our grade,” Earle wrote to welcome new members to the group. “Share experiences, tell stories, tell jokes, sing us a song, dance on a table, do whatever you want! It’s a free world, baby! But let’s start Harvard off right! Out and proud!”
On the Facebook group, students posted links to articles and scheduled video chats. One freshman from India wrote that he had never experienced a BGLTQ community. The post received 31 comments from peers expressing their support.
“We bonded through posting or sending articles, and it became apparent early on that this was a pretty accepting place,” said Garrett C. Allen ’16, who was a member of the Facebook group. “Even upperclassmen joined the group. They gave us advice and talked about how accepting the community was in general. It definitely made the transition easier.”
Students have also used their own Facebook pages as a means of publicly coming out. Jordan T. Weiers ‘16, who has his Facebook profile set to “Interested in: Men,” said that this very open display of sexual orientation helped to avoid uncomfortable conversations with roommates.
“There was never a moment when I had to say, ‘Hey guys, guess what: I’m gay!’” Weiers said. “It just wasn’t necessary. They knew and they understood.”