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With Allies And Safe Zones, LGBTQ+ Students Are Finding Pride In Coming Out

A half-century has passed since the historic Stonewall Uprising in New York City’s Greenwich Village, but another milestone for the LGBTQ+ community was reached almost 31 years ago: the first observance of National Coming Out Day. To mark the annual celebration, PRIDE+, an LGBTQ+ student club on Montgomery College’s Rockville Campus, will hold special events during the month of October.

Aiko Suliman-Perez (right) with three of the four PRIDE+ officers

“We represent a vibrant part of the diversity on the Rockville Campus. Our club provides a safe and inviting space for the LGBTQ+ campus community,” says Aiko Suliman-Perez, club president and second-year student at MC. The club works to foster a fun social environment, expand the discussion and education of LGBTQ+ topics, and support queer activism at Montgomery College.

This semester, Suliman-Perez and her team of four club officials will be holding a Pride Prom, as well as monthly open mic sessions with LGBTQ+ youths from the community. Youths who are at least in freshman year of high school are welcome to attend the open mic sessions. She says the coming-out age, formerly associated with the college years, is getting younger.

“Although the community still lacks visibility,” she says, “we have become more visible than before, leading younger people to be more aware of different LGBTQ+ identities and coming to terms with it earlier on.”

According to the Human Rights Campaign, National Coming Out Day “is a reminder that one of our most basic tools is the power of coming out.” Established in 1988 on the anniversary of the second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, it is celebrated each year on October 11.

“We are going to be doing something for National Coming Out Day week, since October is LGBTQ+ education month,” says Suliman-Perez. “We will have a button-making workshop, in collaboration with Student Art League, and make resources available, such as how to act and how to treat someone when they come out to you.”

Four of the club leaders with Montgomery College President DeRionne Pollard

When she first came to MC a year ago, Suliman-Perez says she increased her own awareness by becoming friends with people in the transgender community.

“The best way for an ally to understand the LGBTQ+ experience is to be surrounded by LGBTQ+ people,” she says, adding that allies are welcome to attend all meetings and events.

Gaining and spreading awareness is something the MC Pride and Allies group, which comprises staff and faculty, has been doing at the College for about a decade. Roberta Buckberg, employer services coordinator, and Laura White, training and development coordinator, have been group members since the beginning and define it as “an affinity group and network loosely constituted of people of good will.”

The best way for an ally to understand the LGBTQ+ experience is to be surrounded by LGBTQ+ people.

MC Pride and Allies stemmed from a commitment to inclusion. It lobbied to change College internal policies, such as including benefits for same-sex partners. The efforts were a success, and MC Pride and Allies moved on to the It Gets Better project. The wildly successful 2010 nationwide campaign to support LGBTQ+ in light of suicides of teenagers who had been bullied for being gay became hallmark videos featured on MCTV.

Over the last few years, the group has facilitated the Safe Zone trainings at MC for faculty and staff. They hold one every semester, but they have also offered additional trainings for departments or students clubs.

“Safe Zone [training] is for any employee who wants to get up to speed about LGBTQ+,” Buckberg says.

Participants can then get a card with the logo and display it outside their offices to show LGBTQ+ students that they are supportive and an ally. “The training gives people some insight and empathy,” White says.

The PRIDE+ Club is on Instagram and Twitter, and students can join by going to the Office of Student Life at the Rockville Campus, Campus Center 005.

The MC Pride and Allies group is open to faculty and staff and can be reached at PrideandAllies@montgomerycollege.edu

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