Courtney sits down with Brad Grimes, Program Coordinator with the WVU LGBTQ+ Center, to talk about the process of coming out. They chat about why it can be scary, fulfilling, and everything in between! For more information on the programs and services provided by the LGBTQ+ Center at WVU, visit their website, https://lgbtq.wvu.edu/, or follow them on social media! Twitter: @WVULGBTQ  Instagram: @wvulgbtqcenter

All right, everyone. Welcome. Welcome. Welcome to Wellbeing Wednesdays. I am your host, Courtney Weaver. I'm also the director of Well WVU here at West Virginia University. And with me today, so excited, is Brad Grimes. He is the program coordinator for the LGBTQ+ Center. We worked together on a few different things, but I feel like we need to work together all the time.

I'm so excited to have him here. So Brad welcome. And if you want, can you take a second, just to tell everyone about your role here at the universe. Sure. Hi Courtney. It's great to be here with you. So my name is Brad Grimes. I use he him pronouns and I am the program coordinator here at the LGBTQ+ Center.

And in that role, I helped develop and implement the LGBTQ+ Centers, programs, activities, and initiatives. I present educational, safe zone and transgender safe zone trainings to students, faculty, staff, community members, sometimes statewide. And I supervise the LGBTQ+ Center student ambassadors.

So it's such a pleasure to be here with you and talking about coming out for national coming out day, which just happened yesterday, October 11th. That happens every year on October 11th. So thank you for having me. It's great to be. Yes. All right. And like Brad said national coming out day was well on the day we're recording this.

It was yesterday, but all the day, this is released it's over a week and a half ago at that point, but that's okay. But it's on October 11th every year. And Brandon, can you give a brief history of what this day is and like how it came about. Sure. So it was established in 1988 on the first anniversary of the first major March for queer rights in Washington DC.

And that was an event, of course, that resulted in the founding of several LGBTQ plus organizations. It grew, it was celebrated in a couple states, but I think as early as 1990, it was celebrated in all 50 states and Th th the takeaway, I think it was founded because the, the foundational idea is that homophobia and discrimination and things like that thrive when in silence and ignorance and fear.

Right? So, you know, so many people, I feel like somebody heterosexual, cisgender people think, well, you know what? I am not that invested in gay rights because I personally don't know any. Who is LGBTQ or gender non-conforming gender, non-binary, whatever. But the fact is they do, they may not know anyone who was actually out and out LGBTQ person.

Yet, but almost everyone knows someone who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ plus community or someone who was gender nonbinary or gender nonconforming, gender fluid, that kind of thing. So the idea behind national coming out day is that by coming out We kind of make the personal political, and we'd like to show people that we'll guess these, these things should matter to you.

And they do matter to you because people, you know and care about are members of the community. So, you know, someone who says they'll go, I don't really care about gay rights because it's not relevant to me. Well, you know what, when people come out, it turns out that, oh, my youngest child is LGBTQ. My uncle is LGBTQ.

My second cousin is as transgender or non-binary. Right. So when we show people that, you know, when we come out, we show people that we exist that we're not ashamed of ourselves. They're proud of who we are. And then that lets them know that. Oh, okay. So I do know people, this does touch me. This does affect.

Yeah, that's kind of the takeaway. Yeah. Well, it's, it's interesting too, because we live in a very heteronormative society where heterosexuality and like being cisgender kind of seen as the norm, right? Like that's what normal is. And I'm using quotation marks

around the word normal. You know, if you are heterosexual or straight, as some people say. You don't really have to, it's like coming out, it's not a process that you have to go through. It's sort of always assumed. And so like, how would you explain the coming out process to those folks who may not be familiar with it?

So I think there's a couple of stages to it. So the, the first part of coming out is a very, as a person. Stage a personal level. So we come out to ourselves first and by that, I mean that we come to accept and identify with our sexual orientation and or gender identity. Right. So it's a, it's a personal.

All right. So for example, growing up, I was very conflicted about being gay. I kept thinking and hoping and praying that it would just go away. It was a phase I'd grow out of, you know, and of course it never did because it's who I am. It's who I always was. So I had to first come to terms and make peace with that myself.

I kind of had to come out to myself, right. Like, oh, okay. I am a gay man. And then once I had taken that personal, you know, internal staff, that's coming out to myself, then I began and I was able to them come out to first a friend, and then later to my family. And then, you know, on an audit that kind of ever widening circle.

Okay. And so how do you think someone makes the decision to come out? Like what's the what's that process like for a lot of folks, I think for most people it's people do a lot of research and study and like they make real efforts to educate themselves, to learn what's going on with themselves.

And, you know, I think there's a tons of introspection. Oftentimes there's prayer. I think there's some. Dropping hints, testing the waters you know, getting a feel for, is it safe for me to come out? What will like my financial support, if that's coming from my parents look like, what will my housing look like?

If I come out and there's a negative reaction of if it goes poorly. So I think that it's just a lot of, like I said, introspection and, and planning and I think. Just yeah. Testing the water to see if it's safe. And also, I feel like, you know, it's kind of seeing where you are internally. Like have, am I comfortable enough with us, myself to share it with another person?

So I think all that goes into. Yeah. I remember when I was in high school, a friend of mine that was in like my core friend group who I'd known since elementary school. You know, she came out to me and a few of our other friends just one night in the basement of my parent's house. It was before she had come out to, you know, her family or anything like that.

And it was such a privilege to be a part of. That process for her because she did feel safe enough to tell us. And we had, we didn't know, but we suspected, and we were just like, you know, great. Like, we love you. Let's just, yeah. We'll support you in whatever you do. And it's, it's, it's an honor to, it was an honor to be in that position for sure.

That's a huge sign of trust when someone feels safe enough and respected enough to share something. Fundamental about themselves with you. And what you said is really such a key takeaway is when someone comes out to you, you know, do take it as a sign of trust and respect, but also do ask, well, what can I do to support.

Like, you know, thank you for trusting me with this. How can, you know, can I help in any way? How can I best support you and also being mindful that you may be the only person that this person has told? So as much as you're excited, like, oh, I have a new gay friend or a nutrients brat, you can't really go blabbing about, around to everyone.

Without first checking in with the person who came out to you to say like, you know, how, how, how secret is this? Or like, have you told anyone else yet? It might be the only one who knows check in with them about how widely they have shared it. And how, why do they want this share? Because again, being mindful that, you know, it may not be completely safe for them in every context to be out.

So sometimes we're out to our friends, right. But not our family. Sometimes we're out to family and friends, but then the immediate family, but like distant family. Sometimes we're out the family and friends, but not at work. We're not in our religious communities, things like that. So there are, you know, so often coming out, isn't something that just happens, right.

It happens. Over and over again, pretty much in every time you walk into a news new room, a new scenario, there's the decision, like, how do I want to come out? If so, to whom? To what extent. It's an ongoing process that happens over and over and over again. That's, you know, we're not like a celebrity or like, like Ellen DeGeneres who can come out one time, just announce it, like, Hey, I'm gay.

And then the world knows. And she's, you know, she never has to come out a gap, right. Or most LGBTQ people, it's a serious multiple coming out over and over again. Right. It's definitely not a one and done process. It's like, okay, you're out. Here's your card.

Nope. That's not how it was. Well, I saw, you said facilitate safe zone trainings at my previous institution. And that was always something. We talked about, like there can be students maybe here at WVU or at any college where they're out at school, but they're not out back at home. And so they might have completely different social media accounts that they share with their college friends versus their friends from their hometown and their family.

And so it is really important to have that conversation. With folks to be like, all right, what, what can I do? Like, who'd like, how many people, how can I keep you safe? How can I help keep you safe? Right. And speaking of safety, like what are some ways that folks can, I don't know about ensuring it, but like making sure that it's safe for them to come out, like, what can they sort of put in place?

So I feel that like being clear with people that you do come out to, you know, of the parameters of your comfort level and exactly why. So I'm going to help you get to my family because, you know, They're paying for my education and I don't, I can't afford to lose those financial support if they handle it badly or poorly.

Right. If I, if they reject me and I mean, maybe it's, you know, for a teenager who's 17. So living at home, you know, I don't want to find myself and sadly it happens, but I don't want to find myself homeless. Or kicked out of my, my family home because my parents were disapproving or rejecting of my sexuality or my gender identity.

Right. Sadly it happens. You know, a boyfriend of mine. One of my first boyfriends was kicked out of his home, I think at 19, like just out on the street, lived on Kraft, macaroni and cheese for months because he had no money, nowhere to live. That his family just kicked him out of the house when he came out to them.

So it's tragic. It happens. So it's just being mindful of you know, I think it's important, but I need to be respectful and supportive, but like for people who choose to come out to make sure that they're clear about this, this needs to be remained confidential and why? Yeah. Just make, it just makes me sad that like this process has to.

Like those thoughts have to cross your mind, you know, just to be your authentic self, but really so I mean, on the, on the opposite side of that coin, I mean, what, what would you think, or what do you think are the benefits of coming out of. For, for folks like what's why would they do it in the first place?

So like, even though it, it can sometimes initially be upsetting. I feel that like coming out eventually helps LGBTQ folks and people with gender nonconforming, gender identities live more self-accepting and more authentic lives. You know, w when we stop hiding who we truly are. We can begin to grow and develop into fuller versions of our best and whole selves.

So, I mean, I'll give you a personal example for me, like living with the distrust that, you know, my closest relationships might go away. If they actually knew who I truly was, it was causing me a great deal of depression and making me very anxious, very sad and just depressed. So for me, coming out was kind of a necessity because I, it got to the point where I can't live this way.

I can't live with thinking that the people that I love. Wouldn't love me if they knew if I took the mask off and they knew who I truly was. So, I mean, and that's when my mental health healing began. It was when I started living authentically. And I didn't tell the world. I told my immediate family and my, my best, the person who is to this day.

So my best friend and of course it built from there as I, as I grew more comfortable with. And as I got more secure that, like I have the support, these people like love me and accept me for who I am, but my mental health began to get better and my, my world got better, and I became authentically more myself and I started to grow once I came out.

Yeah. Yeah. So how do, how does the LGBTQ center support students here at WVU? Like what are the programs that you, programs and services that you all have to make them give you a safer place perhaps for folks who maybe are coming out, haven't come out yet, are living proudly. Like, what do you, what do you got going on?

Well, so we offer a ton of resources. First and foremost, for people who identify as LGBTQ or gender non-conforming, we are a safe space, right? It says we're a safe space for people to meet, to study, learn, and work together. But people who may not know as much about. LGBTQ identities and things like that.

We do a lot of work. We work very hard to educate people who may not identify as LGBTQ about the LGBTQ plus experiences about LGBTQ history. Pressing issues that the communities face and how LGBTQ plus inclusion makes our campus and society stronger and richer, we educate to promote greater understanding, stronger allyship and fuller inclusion because, you know, We work better together.

Right? So, and sometimes it is simple, just simple, not knowing. So when we kind of educate to help people understand better, then that helps disrupt and break up. Homophobia or, you know, just not knowing that can result in a lot of fear or kind of ignorance. Right? So we do a lot of, most of our work is geared toward like fostering education and inclusion combating homophobia and things like that.

And we offer a wide variety of programs that are fun, educational, recreational, and geared to building a community and really raising awareness and fostering respect for our diverse. Yeah. I mean, I think everything that y'all offer so great. If, if our listeners are interested in learning more about the center, I recommend that you all follow them on social media.

Cause you all have Twitter and Instagram. And I know this month is LGBTQ history month. And so you're sharing prominent figures every day and, and why they're important to LGBTQ history. And it's really great. But you also talk about, you know, the upcoming events that y'all have. So, if you're interested, we'll, we'll put your social media handles in the district and for the podcast and also more our website, our website, LGBTQ dot, wvu.edu.

Great. A treasure trove of like our resources, upcoming events, all that kind of thing. Yes. The Courtney, I do want to mention like, well, national coming out day is a celebratory day and a day to celebrate people's bravery and courage. For making the decision and being able to come out, I just want to stress it.

Like we should never pressure anyone to come out. For example, like you mentioned, like with your friend, well, we kind of thought maybe suspected that, and sometimes people are tempted to think, well, I'm going to help them, help them out and I'll help them along by helping them come out. You know, that's a big no-no, that's a, that's a definite dope.

People come out. It's a very personal thing. And people come out when they feel safe and when they are ready. Right. So while we're celebrating the courage and bravery, it takes to come out, never pressure someone to do something wrong. They're not ready for. And also being mindful that it may not be safe.

People may not be in a situation where at a time of their lives, where it is safe to do so. Preston Mitchum a queer black writer notes that like coming out. For people in marginalized communities can lead to what he calls hyper visibility. For those with intersecting identities, which potentially lead to discrimination in the workplace, even family exile could lead the bylaw.

Or even criminalization. So we celebrate the bravery and courage it takes, but we are mindful that like, you know, people come out when they are ready, if they are ready. It's not something other people will have to do or should ever be pressured or forced to do. And, you know, we want to, as you mentioned earlier in this podcast, be mindful of safety.

Yeah. Definitely. Well, thank you so much, Brad, for talking with me today, I really appreciate all of your wonderful insight. And I hope that more students at WVU come and check out what the center has to offer. But to our listeners, thank you all so, so much, we really appreciate it. And we will catch you next time on Wellbeing Wednesdays.