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Thursday, October 01, 2020

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Coming out stories shared at Safe Zone panel

<p>University students including Harlowe Kerckhove (left) shared their coming out stories during a coming out luncheon.</p>

University students including Harlowe Kerckhove (left) shared their coming out stories during a coming out luncheon.

*Note: Pronouns io/iom/iors will be used to reference Harlowe Kerckhove in the article when necessary.

Three University of Richmond students shared their separate coming out stories as well as their own insights about LGBTQ topics related to Richmond during a Safe Zone Lunch event.

The panelists who shared their coming out process included juniors Jazzmin Reid and Harlowe Kerckhove and Zach Perry, a sophomore.

Reid, who identifies as lesbian, told her story first. She explained how she was raised as a Baptist Christian, which prompted her to believe that her religion and being gay could not go “hand-in-hand.”

“For most of middle school and high school, I was in denial,” Reid said. “I thought these feelings were temptation and that they would go away.”

Reid said she had finally come out to her best friend, who had been very supportive at the time, and eventually to her other friends at the all-girls high school she had attended. She then started to explore the LGBTQ culture in Baltimore, which helped her begin to evaluate where she was associated in the LGBTQ spectrum and lesbian community.

Reid said when she had visited Richmond the May after she was accepted, she had met Jah, who had taken her “under his wing” and showed her LGBTQ life on campus.

“I’m certain that my experience at the university would not have been the same without him because [when] coming to the university, I was afraid of having to go through coming out again,” Reid said. “[Jah] was the biggest resource that I had.”

Perry, who identifies as queer, said he had found coming out to be an eye-opening process.

“There is so much more that I would like to know,” he said. “Coming out to me is being open to new ideals and not finding myself as one ideal. It’s a community that needs to be open to any and all.”

Kerckhove, a transgender person, said io had gone through stages where io had identified as straight, lesbian and bisexual, and is now still trying to figure out where io falls on the LGBTQ spectrum.

Kerckhove uses several different resources on the Internet including Tumblr’s Pronoun Dressing Room, which has a lexicon of about a hundred different pronouns. However, io said the Pronoun Dressing Room had changed iors pronouns multiple times, which stimulated io to create iors own pronouns.

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Kerckhove said io had been terrified that iors parents would have disowned iors when io had come out. Io shared a couple statistics, and said 57 percent of transgender people were rejected by their families, and 51 percent of people who were rejected then attempted suicide.

“That was an overwhelming fear that I had during that time period,” io said. “Luckily, my parents are very accepting and are trying very hard to use my new name and new pronouns.

“The hardest thing for me as I’m coming out is advocating for myself and correcting people and asserting my identity and demanding that people use my name and pronouns. Don’t assume that all students are cisgender and/or heterosexual.”

During the question-and-answer session, Craig Kocher, the university chaplain, asked Reid for advice on how she viewed being Christian and gay as separate entities, because he said he struggled with students who had issues doing so.

Reid talked about her family’s strong Baptist Christian background, and how they saw being gay as a sin and had no explanation for it. She said she had diverged from her religion for a while as she had been dealing with coming out. However, her roommate in the LGBTQ Living and Learning program, Cassandra Calin, had been an advocate for helping her realize that she could be both Christian and gay.

“It was something I had to learn and come to terms with on my own, and I saw through her that she was a member of the LGBTQ community and actively practiced her faith,” she said. “If that can happen in one person, it can also happen in me.”

“The biggest thing that you can tell your students is that my religion and my relationship with God is independent with my family or how they perceive my relationship with God.”

Abby Ward, an alumna who works in the Office of International Education, asked for students’ input on the traditional coordinate system at Richmond.

Kerckhove said io believed that there should be some type of office that holds all the files and records of students who do not want to be affiliated with Richmond or Westhampton College. Io then added that students should be able to choose the college in which they would like to be affiliated. This method would keep the tradition alive while making LGBTQ students more included.

Kerckhove will graduate without being affiliated with either Richmond College or Westhampton College.

This event was part of the series UR Comes Out: A Celebration of LGBTQ History Month. The panel was hosted by Ted Lewis, associate director of LGBTQ campus life, in the Alice Haynes Room on Oct. 7, 2014.

Contact reporter Alyssa Gunville at alyssa.gunville@richmond.edu

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