OUTLaw celebrates National Coming Out Day
In celebration of National Coming Out Day Oct. 11, the University of Florida Levin College of Law’s gay-straight alliance group, OUTLaw, hosted a panel of students and faculty who shared their personal and professional experiences as openly gay individuals.
OUTLaw President Kathryn Bennett (2L) began the discussion with a history of LGTBQ issues and said this day serves as a civil awareness day that helps foster an understanding about these issues and raises awareness for gay and straight people alike.
Sterling Davenport (1L), Matthew Heberlein (LL.M.T.), Kathryn Brightbill (2L) and Professor Danaya Wright spoke on issues ranging from coming out to family, friends and in the workplace, to what straight allies can do to help promote a more inclusive and understanding community.
Bennett said coming out is an important and personal decision and it is up to each person to decide when it is appropriate to come out.
“There’s no going back” once a person is out, she said, and it can “fundamentally alter relationships.”
Davenport said issues such as personal safety can be a factor when determining who to tell and when to come out.
When coming out to a friend, Wright said one of the best responses should simply be: “That’s great.”
That someone has mustered up the courage to share such an integral part of his or her life demonstrates vulnerability as well as trust in the person receiving the news, echoed the panelists.
Following individual stories, Bennett asked each panelist what he or she would tell someone about their sexuality if they were meeting for the first time and what advice they would give to allies to support someone coming out.
Davenport said his activity in equality groups makes his sexuality more obvious, but for others it may not be as clear.
Prior to graduating from Florida Coastal Law, Heberlein was hesitant to include his involvement in equality groups at the college on his resume, but decided if a firm had issue with it, then he likely did not want to work in that environment.
Heberlein said sometimes people can use terms without meaning them in a negative sense, but it’s important to let them know if their use is offensive or derogatory.
“There is nothing wrong with making a mistake,” Heberlein said. “But there is everything good about making a change.”
As for the classroom, Wright encourages faculty to use more hypothetical gay couples in class discussion to normalize their inclusion. She said students often perk up when a gay couple is brought into an estates and trusts scenario, since the vast majority of cases are straight couples.
As for acceptance in the law school community or workplace, Heberlein said “If something makes you feel uncomfortable, speak out and correct it.”
The UF Law administration has been working closely with the Diversity and Community Relations Committee to identify ways to affirm the values of a diverse community and promote an inclusive and tolerant environment. A Town Hall meeting is scheduled for Oct. 23 at noon in the Chesterfield Smith Ceremonial Classroom, HOL 180, to discuss these issues in a forum setting.
In addition, the law school has created a webpage offering resources for dealing with academic stress, tolerance issues, anxiety and a variety of other issues. Got a problem? We can help. Contact the Communications Office if you have comments or suggestions for improving the page.
To view other UF efforts to promote inclusivity, watch this video of UF students and faculty giving a message of love and acceptance to the LGBTQ community.