The Dr. Jesse R. Peel LGBTQ Center at East Carolina University will host its annual National Coming Out Day event this week to celebrate National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11.
Mark Rasdorf, senior associate director for the Dr. Jesse R. Peel LGBTQ Center, said the idea for the event is to highlight visibility and pride not just on National Coming Out Day but every day.
Due to fall break, the event will take place on Oct. 7 at ECU's main campus mall from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Rasdorf said the event is in honor of The Second National March on Washington D.C. for Lesbian and Gay rights where more than 500,000 people gathered in support of LGBTQ rights on Oct.11,1987.
“I honor the name, but I also don’t think anybody picks a day on the calendar to come out,” Rasdorf said.
COVID-19 precautions like wearing masks will take place during the event. Rasdorf said that part of the event is to celebrate the return of everybody to campus, especially with two classes of students who haven’t spent a lot of time at ECU.
Rasdorf said in past years the event was held at the brick walkway in front of the Mendenhall Building. Now that the event takes place on ECU’s mall, Rasdorf said it helps people recognize the center exists and that the campus is safe and inclusive of the LGBTQ community.
“There’s not a lot of organized support east of (Interstate) 95 in eastern North Carolina for the LGBTQ community. As is true for other things that ECU does, we serve a need that’s not met somewhere else in the community, so everybody is welcome to National Coming Out Day,” Rasdorf said.
The LGBTQ center has retired its former campaign “Gay? Fine by Me” to “Y’all Means All” which includes the addition of a black and brown stripe to represent people of color. The logo was created by ECU Creative Services with input from the LGBTQ center. The new campaign will be printed on T-shirts, decals, shoelaces and more which will be available for free at the event.
A tradition within ECU’s National Coming Out Day celebration is the human rainbow photo in front of the ECU letters located at the Main Campus Student Center. The picture will take place at 4 p.m. after the event.
“If you get a shirt, come back at four and be part of the human rainbow photo so we can have the largest ever photo,” Rasdorf said.
In accordance with ECU's National Coming Out Day, the LGBTQ center is doing its first billboard campaign. The art was created by Rae Senarighi, a transgender artist who has visited ECU before. The sign reads “You Are Loved.”
The billboard ran in two locations in Greenville, North Carolina, one on Memorial Drive in August and September, and the other currently on Greenville Boulevard. In December and January, it’s going to be on Highway 264 as people come into Greenville.
“I think we’re going to get a group of people, whoever wants to join us after the human rainbow photo, to drive over to Greenville Blvd. and take a big group picture in front of the billboard,” Rasdorf said.
Eric Hickerson, graduate student in the department of chemistry and LGBTQ center assistant, said the support on campus for the LGBTQ community has grown tremendously. The new campaign T-shirts were released early and worn by different departments on campus.
Hickerson said Coming Out Day is an important part of everybody in the LGBTQ community’s journey. Even if someone hasn’t come out yet, the day gives people the opportunity to celebrate their identity.
“It’s exciting that we have departments that are affirming, accepting and showing their support,” Hickerson said. “It’s important that we have representation and people continue to wear the T-shirts year-round. It’s exciting to see them walk by and know that they’re accepting of me.”
Senior art major and LGBTQ center assistant Blake Mansfield who came out in the summer of 2018 describes coming out as a big moment that a lot of people have to go through.
“Some people have a good coming out experience and other people don't, which sucks, but it’s important to recognize the whole event of coming out as a big deal,” Mansfield said.
Mansfield said the uncertainty of whether students would remain in-person was a drawback they pondered on knowing National Coming Out Day wouldn’t receive the recognition it deserved if everyone was remote.
Numbers of COVID-19 clusters were identified across ECU’s campus, causing worry for Rasdorf, who organized the event, Mansfield said. They said they are happy things are going as planned despite the pandemic.
“I think specifically for this event, it was honestly kind of up in the air that if it would even go on because we knew we wanted to do it because National Coming Out Day is one of the biggest days for LGBTQ history and the community,” Mansfield said.