Last Friday, students from Colgate and other colleges in the nearby upstate New York area gathered at La Casa Pan Latina for a reception to officially kick-off the second annual Big Gay Weekend, a three-day social gathering organized to provide the LGBTQ community with the chance to interact and learn with their peers.
“The thing that I enjoyed most about the weekend was being able to be myself,” one Colgate student said. “There weren’t that many people here from other campuses, but for what it’s worth, it was a slight influx in the LGBTQ community that made me feel more open then usual.”
This is the second year that Colgate has hosted the Big Gay Weekend, offering workshops, a book signing, a keynote address and other social gatherings for attendees.
Issues addressed during the various workshops on Saturday included discussions on homosexuality and religion, finding job opportunities, the problem of multiple identities and the coming-out experience.
Co-chair of Advocates sophomore R.J. Reynes and Faculty Psychologist Hsiao-wen Lo led the “Coming Out” workshop alongside Professor William Jellison of Quinnipiac University.
“I chose to participate as a workshop leader because I want to continue to support the LGBTQ community,” Lo said.
The workshop gave the small, intimate group the chance to openly share their personal stories. One Colgate participant spoke about how the relationship with her family has changed since her decision to come out: “It’s been hard. But they’re starting that process of accepting.”
Another attendee told of her brother’s discouraging reaction to her relationship with another woman. “He asked me not to tell our parents, because he wanted to keep it a secret. He said, “we’re just going to pretend.” To this day, she has yet to confide in her parents about her long-term relationship.
Jellison concluded the discussion by encouraging the attendees to embrace their identities.
“We take our power back when we choose,” he said. “Living in a society that says we are all heterosexual until proven otherwise, it is our duty to increase the visibility of an invisible group.”
Lo agreed, adding, “The enemy is in the attitudes, not the people.”
Later that afternoon, former NFL player Esera Tuaolo delivered the weekend’s keynote speech, addressing the issues of homosexuality and athletics. Tuaolo, who realized he was gay very early in life, chose to keep his orientation a secret because of a fear of rejection from his family and the intolerance of his peers.
“I started playing sports because I was good at them,” he explained, “But on the flipside, it was the start of my nightmares.”
It was the start, in fact, of decades of quietly enduring the ignorance and homophobia of his teammates.
“In sports, you become brothers with your fellow players,” he said. “You have each other’s back.
If somebody found out I was gay, the team wouldn’t have my back anymore.”
Tuaolo explained how his fear of being found out extended beyond the probable loss of many personal relationships.
“You want to ruin someone’s career [in the NFL]? Start a rumor that they’re gay. Isn’t that pathetic?” he said, adding that, to this day, no gay man has ever come out while playing on an NFL team.
One thread that was consistently present throughout the personal accounts shared over Big Gay Weekend was the struggle for acceptance among family, friends and even strangers.
“It’s the whole double-identity thing,” another Colgate student said. “It’s always worrying about who will not be able to see past the word ‘gay’ in their relations with you once they find out.”
Big Gay Weekend, which, many noted, helped them shed those worries for a small time, came to a close later Saturday night with a Drag Ball held at the Palace Theater.
“My night as a lady was hilarious,” the same participant said. “The clothing was very comfortable … the only problem was that the heels obliterated my feet by the end of the night!”
Lo explained the broader goals of the Big Gay Weekend.
“Big Gay Weekend creates a space for people to experience and see what it’s like when heterosexuality isn’t the norm,” she said. “It’s not LGBTQ students’ day to day experience to have these kinds of opportunities.”
[Editors’ Note: The Maroon-News does not ordinarily accept anonymous quoes. Out of respect for the private feelings of those LGBTQ students quoted in this article who have yet to “come out” to the greater community, we have made an exception and, as per their desires, have not revealed their names.]