Ralph Hopkins, a University sophomore, walked through a pink closet door and into the waiting arms of Goldy Gopher Thursday afternoon in a symbolic coming out.
The occasion, “Coming Out With Goldy,” at the St. Paul Student Center’s Garden Terrace, was sponsored by the Association of Gay/Lesbian/Bi/Transgender Student Organizations and Their Friends.
The symbolic act, part of the University’s celebration of National Coming Out Week, allowed students to get their picture taken with Goldy Gopher.
Of the nine students who walked out of the pink closet door, none was coming out for the first time.
Hopkins said that although he is already public about being gay, the events for National Coming Out Week are still important to him.
“Visibility is very important because the vast majority of people still hide their identity,” Hopkins said.
He added that a more visible gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender presence can make others feel more comfortable with coming out.
National studies suggest between 1.5 percent and 10 percent of University students, staff and faculty are likely to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, said Beth Zemsky, director of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Programs Office.
Zemsky estimates the University gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community to be about 7 percent, or about 450 students.
Zemsky said her office has more than 2,000 students, staff, faculty and organizations on the mailing list which serves the University GLBT community.
Though many University students stay in the closet, being at college can make it easier to come out, according to some University staff and students. “Freshmen year is a critical time because they are away from home,” Zemsky said.
Michael Lane, co-chair of the GLBT student organization and a senior majoring in art, said that although he knew in high school that he was gay, he came out during his freshman year in college.
Lane said he felt safer to come out living away from home because he feared his parents would reject him. He eventually told his parents, and they are now active in supporting gay rights, he said.
Brandon Aguirre, a junior majoring in Urban Studies, said his decision to come out during his freshman year was unplanned.
Aguirre said his decision to come out was influenced by a female friend “who had more than friendship feelings” towards him. Aguirre said he wanted to maintain their friendship by being honest about his sexual orientation.
He said he had prior female friends he did not maintain friendships with because he did not tell them that he was gay. His other friends have accepted his decision to come out, Aguirre said.
Karin Hunt, a sophomore majoring in history and journalism, is a friend and roommate of Aguirre’s who has known him since his sophomore year. She said she knew Aguirre was gay before he told her.
His decision to come out did not hurt their friendship, she said. Hunt added that they have become better friends.
It’s important to listen and not question a person’s sexuality, Hunt said. She added that friends of people who have come out should be supportive by asking themselves, “What can I do to make this a better experience?”
Aguirre said that being from a small town in Michigan, he did not find an environment at home as supportive as the University. Aguirre said he started to recognize that he was gay in high school.
Though he had a girlfriend, Aguirre said he knew the relationship did not feel comfortable. “I was searching for that girl that would make me straight, and when I knew that wouldn’t happen, I gave up,” he said.
Aguirre said the support of friends and places such as the GLBT association makes it easier to be out.
Meghan Brunnber, a sophomore majoring in psychology, said knowing supportive people was a factor in her decision to come out.
Brunnber said she came out when she was 16 because she knew her friends would accept her decision.
When Brunnber told her friends, she said that at first some were shocked, but they quickly accepted her decision to come out. Brunnber said her relationships with her friends has not changed since she told them.
She said she has been fortunate to have such strong support.
Today is National Coming Out Day and events by the GLBT association will continue through the weekend. Events include a dinner and dance, an AIDS Memorial Vigil and a coming out party by gay fraternity Delta Lambda Phi.