Sammi Whitaker, first openly lesbian Anglia Ruskin Students' Union President tells her story for National Coming Out Day (11/10/2015)
Content Warning: mention of harassment & violence.
Today is National Coming Out Day!
For those who don't already know, today is an international annual civil awareness day where people who identify within the LGBT+ or MOGAI communities celebrate their identity. The day was coined by two gay rights activists in 1988, Dr. Robert Eichberg and Jean O'Leary to raise awareness of people who identify as anything other than cisgender or heterosexual.
'Coming out' is a term which describes the act of people telling other people that they do not identify as being cisgender or being heterosexual. On national coming out day this act is celebrated - this act, for so many is one of the single most important or terrifying acts they perform. For many, 'coming out' is something they just can't do - for many reasons.
The premise behind this day is to show people that we are many - we are your friends, your classmates, your family, your neighbours... through coming out - for those who are comfortable to and for those who are safe to do so - we are showing people that we exist and we demand no more and no less than the freedom to be ourselves and to enjoy the same freedoms that our heterosexual and cisgendered friends, classmates, family and neighbours get to enjoy.
National coming out day is a day to promote a safe world for LGBT+ and MOGAI people, to disestablish peoples fears and stereotypes and create a world in which individuals can live truthfully and openly. That's why on this day, I'm coming out.
Now I'm sure that for the most part this will come as no surprise to many of the people reading this, but I'm proud to say that I am a lesbian. The strange thing is that even as I just wrote that sentence, a huge wave of anxiety past through my body. I'm very open and comfortable talking about my sexuality, but I'm also no stranger to discrimination, harasment and violence due to my sexuality and how I choose to present myself. In fact, that wave of anxiety was the same wave of anxiety I felt every day when I was running in the election to become the President of our Students' Union. I know that our society has come quite some way, but there are still huge amounts of problems with the way we represent LGBT+/MOGAI people in our mainstream media and we still have so many people being harrassed and even killed because of how they identify.
I wasn't really sure what to expect when I ran for the position of President, if I'm completely honest I was terrified that I might attract unwanted attention and I was scared that some people might vote unfairly because of how I identify. I'm sure that to some people reading this now, that might seem far fetched, but it's a genuine fear that LGBT+/MOGAI people have been made to worry about. I almost didn't run because of these fears and anxieties that society as a whole had placed on me. Luckily - I stuck to my guns - I knew I wanted to do this, I had a vision and I wanted to be true to that vision, and make sure that I could continue my work representing and empowering Anglia Ruskin students from all walks of life. When the result of the election was read out and I was elected as President of Anglia Ruskin Stduents' Union, I specifically remember saying on stage that "I genuinely didn't think I would win this election" and in that moment I felt so free, so true and so accepted.
So many people have shown me support throughout the years and stood by my side when I needed them the most, but as I said before - I'm no stranger to discrimination based on my sexuality. But I'm incredibly proud to say that I feel free, true and acccepted at Anglia Ruskin University.
So, to all my fellow LGBT+/MOGAI students, if you can, if you're comfortable to - come out, be proud and NEVER let your identity or how some people may treat you for your identity hold you back. There will be challenges along the way, we still have a long journey for total liberation, but you can do it. We are many.
And to all those who don't identify as LGBT+/MOGAI - be an ally. We are your friends, your classmates, your family, your neighbours, and I am your Students' Union President.