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Ohio State LGBTQ students talk coming out and the adversity that follows

June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month, a celebration each year that honors a series of riots and protests standing up to unfair treatment of the LGBTQ community in 1969 known as the Stonewall riots a days-long incidence of street protests in response to a police raid of the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, widely held as the launch of the national LGBT rights movement. June was first recognized as gay and lesbian pride month in 2000 under President Bill Clinton and was adjusted in 2009 under President Barack Obama, who renamed it to include bisexual and transgender in the name and celebration.

Saturday was the Columbus Pride parade, a march and celebration of over 10,000 people with an estimated 500,000 attendees, according to the Columbus Pride website. The day is celebrated by members of the LGBTQ community and allies as a time of complete freedom of expression, and a way to continue to fight for equality in society.

As part of Pride Month, The Lantern conducted a series of interviews with some of Ohio State’s LGBTQ students to better understand what it means to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer at OSU.

A float carries couples who were recently married June 22 on High Street as part of Pride Parade 2013. Credit: Shelby Lum | Former Photo Editor

The road to self acceptance (and presidency)

It has been a long road to self-acceptance for Andrew Jackson, the Ohio State Undergraduate Student Government President.

Jackson, a fourth-year in spanish and political science, is the second-known gay USG president in OSU history. But years before winning the election this spring, he was internally battling who he is with who he thought he should be.

“When I was in high school, I would never ever get caught dead saying something about a man,” said Jackson, who grew up in what he called a small, conservative farm town. “There weren’t gay people where I was from.”

The non-visible gay population at home made it difficult for him to understand what it meant to be gay, and made it particularly challenging to figure out “who gay people were” — to figure out who he was.

You don’t just come out once, you come out every single day – Andrew Jackson

After going out with numerous girls in middle school and high school, he realized he was not attracted to women. He came out to his sister his freshman year and to his mother his senior year who accepted his sexuality, but the moments leading up to his coming out were filled with fear.

“These four years looking back … I never want to go through that again. It is the worst feeling in the world thinking that your family may not accept you or that they might kick you out on the streets just for being who you are,” Jackson said.

The day after he came out to his friends he feared he would get physically assaulted at school.

“You never know. You’re going into the unknown and being as vulnerable as you can be when you come out,” Jackson said. “Especially at that age.”

Andrew Jackson, a fourth-year in Spanish and political science, and the Undergraduate Student Government president stands in Washington, D.C.. The USG president said he comes out everyday to people he has just met, whether it’s explaining to them that he is gay or through talking about men. Credit: Andrew Jackson

Jackson said coming out has gotten easier, and the act of coming out still happens daily.

“It’s a very reoccurring thing that we say in the LGBTQ community — you don’t just come out once, you come out every single day,” Jackson said. “And that’s really the truth. I can’t even tell you a day in my adult life where I’ve never not said something about being gay or said something about a guy around people that don’t know me.”

It had gotten easier, though.  

Jackson said growing up and seeing visible policies like Don’t Ask Don’t Tell  — a policy in the U.S. armed forces that prohibited homosexual or bisexual people from disclosing or speaking about their sexuality while serving — reinforced the notion that being gay was something he should hide.

He said that for the better half of his life he accepted the fact that he would not be able to get married if he fell in love.

“I always aspired to marry a man, but until recently it wasn’t legal,” Jackson said, while adding that discrimination against LGBTQ people is still legal in some states, like Ohio.

“There are a few people who ask the question, ‘Why do we still need Pride Month?’ and it’s hard for me to hear,” he said.

Jackson said Pride Month is not just a time for celebration, but also a time for self-reflection and a time to recognize growth.

“For me to be able to go into my small town wearing a pride shirt and not giving a flying f*ck about what people think about me has really changed how I look at the whole world,” Jackson said. “It was a long road to self-acceptance, and I don’t think I’m completely there by any means, but I am way more now than I was my senior year of high school.”

 

Coming to terms with being black and gay

During adolescence, most young people worry about what kind of clothes they wear or what sports teams they make. For Savannah Sockwell, her worries revolved around taking care of her younger siblings and figuring out what it means to be black and queer.

The third-year in public affairs said the adversity she and many other LGBTQ people of color face comes from both people who share their ethnicity and people who share their sexuality.

It’s not like I want to be this. It’s who I am. – Savannah Sockwell 

“From my personal experiences, I not only got backlash from family members about coming out, but also not everyone in the queer community is accepting of me,” Sockwell said. “There’s still misogynists and racist people within the LGBTQ community who think they have an upper hand in life because they are white.”

She said when she first came out to members of the black community, they told her she couldn’t be both black and queer.

“People say, ‘Oh no you can’t be gay, that’s a white thing. Black people can’t be this way because we already have to fight so much just being black,’” Sockwell said.

“They don’t understand,” she said. “It’s not like I want to be this. It’s who I am.”

Savannah Sockwell, a third-year in public affairs, stands in front of a rainbow flag, a symbol for the LGTBQ community. Credit: Savannah Sockwell

During her junior year of high school, talk of college and the opportunities to find herself and become who she wanted to be was a common theme in conversations with her friends and teachers. It was then she began the process of self-acceptance.

“I was more so trying to figure out myself and how I wanted to come off to other people,” Sockwell said. “But then I decided to forget labels and forget people asking you what your sexuality is because, at the end of the day, I am who I am.”

When she came to terms with being queer, the making of who she really was began, she said. She wanted to be comfortable with herself before starting her next chapter at college.

And when she did begin college, a new door opened.

“I realized at that time I had the power to be even more of my own person and who I wanted to be,” Sockwell said. “With that new chapter of my life it allowed for me to express more of me in terms of my sexuality and how I felt.”

In Columbus and at Ohio State, Sockwell found communities accepting of her, as well as safe spaces to talk about her sexuality — something she didn’t have back home.

“I was outed by a sibling of mine to my mother and the first time it was brought up I did not admit to it,” Sockwell said. “Because I knew my mom would quickly disown me because she did it to another sibling of mine. I knew she would become hostile and I knew it wouldn’t be safe. It wasn’t the right time. It was when I was 14.”

Though Sockwell did not live with her mother, she was still around enough to make Sockwell feel uneasy about coming out to her family.

“I didn’t feel safe coming out to her,” Sockwell said. “I had to be safe and protect myself.”

Eventually, Sockwell came out to teammates on her softball team, as well as friends.  

“It was hard to tell them because you think about it in the instance that you don’t ever want to disappoint the people you love,” Sockwell said. “When you can’t go to family, you go to friends.”

Her friends and teammates accepted her, and she soon found acceptance within herself.

“Me coming to my truth wasn’t so much of me changing myself, I changed the way I wanted to live,” she said. “I changed the way I wanted to see me.”

It’s a time for us to be who we are and not feel ashamed to be us. – Savannah Sockwell

As she began to feel more comfortable with the way she wanted to live, she began to think of the impact she wanted to leave on the world.

“I had to be honest. I can’t tell someone to be something and be this way when literally I’m living a lie,” she said. “In order to make a great impact in the world, I had to come to terms with myself and accept myself for others to accept me.”

This Pride Month she hopes the demonstrations of happiness as well as the honesty distributed throughout the LGBTQ community will help those who have not come out find the confidence to do so.

Pride Month is a time for LGBTQ people to be who they really want to be without worrying of what others will think of them, Sockwell said.

“It’s a time for us to be who we are and not feel ashamed to be us.”

 

“You’re never going to be Ellen DeGeneres”

Katy Scruppi was in sixth grade when the popular song by Katy Perry, “I Kissed A Girl,” was released.

The song became one of the most played in America at the time, reaching No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for seven weeks and taking the top spot in 15 other countries. But whenever Scruppi, now studying at Ohio State’s Moritz College of Law, was riding in the car with friends and the song came on, whichever of their mothers was driving would immediately turn it off or switch stations, she said.

This was happening at the same she discovered she was a lesbian.

These nonverbal cues, along with the lack of LGBTQ representation in her health classes or in the media at the time, led Scruppi to believe the person she is was not accepted in society.

“I just felt so wrong because nobody ever talked about it… and when they did talk about it, it was very much in a negative light,” Scruppi said.

This, along with the bullying she endured throughout middle school for what she said was dressing like a tomboy, are reasons why it took five years for her to accept her lesbian sexuality. It took seven for her to come out entirely.

Oh yeah, I’m gay. – Katy Scruupi

She told her close-knit group of friends first and then her younger sister.

“They were all elated,” Scruppi said. She said they accepted her immediately and were happy she was willing to tell them.

As for her mother, Scruppi came out to her in an unconventional way.

“My mom was coming up the stairs, my sister came out of her room and I opened the bathroom door and we’re all kind of standing there talking about our plans for the rest of the day and my mom looks at me and goes ‘Anything you want to tell me?’ I was like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m gay,’” Scruppi said.

“And she was like ‘Yeah I know. Want to go to the grocery store?’ And I said, ‘Oh. Great. Yeah, sure’.”

Katy Scruppi, a student at Moritz College of Law, stands with her girlfriend, Mikayla Bodey, both graduates of Ohio State, on The Oval. Credit: Katy Scruppi

Since then her friends, sister and mother have been supportive and open to her sexuality and the conversations that come along with it. Her father has not been as accepting.

Scruppi came out to her father her freshman year at OSU on the phone during a fight. He started crying.

“He was like, ‘Is this my fault?,’” Scruppi said.

She tried to talk with him more after a few days had passed. “He was like, ‘Well you’re like really pretty I don’t understand’,” Scruppi said.

“I think he thought I gave up on men or something.”

Her father was concerned Scruppi would not be able to hold a job, or that she would ruin her sister’s marriage in the future if her husband wasn’t accepting. She said he also couldn’t understand that her sexuality was not something she was doing for attention.

“He goes ‘Well you know you’re never going to be Ellen Degeneres.’,” Scruppi said.  

“No one else is, dad. She’s an American icon.”

And that was the last time Scruppi talked about her sexuality openly with her father — four years ago. He asked her then not to tell his side of the family, a request she has obliged.

Over the years that followed, Scruppi said she found an accepting Columbus and college community, a girlfriend and the confidence to “grab (her) girlfriend’s hand and walk around a small country town.” But not without adversity.

I promise that we’re not going to try to convert you – Katy Scruppi

Scrutiny and prejudices have come at her in various ways: in people asking her how, exactly, lesbians have sex; in men — white, straight men in particular — sexualizing her for who she finds attractive; and in verbal abuse, including from fellow OSU students.

“Before class one time, I gave my girlfriend a peck on the cheek and a guy across The Oval yelled at me ‘That was hot.’ Which was obviously really gross and abrasive,” Scruppi said.

The verbal harassment also came in more intimate settings, like a dorm common area.

“I was sitting down talking in the dorm and (a resident) made the comments ‘If you change your mind (about your sexuality), let me know,’ and ‘Give me a call next time you and your girlfriend are making out,’” Scruppi said.

These incidences didn’t scare her, and they didn’t make her feel endangered. These comments that many LGTBQ people hear everyday — comments that, by law, are sexual harassment -— didn’t make her scared for her life.

Except for once.

Scruppi was taking the COTA bus to the Short North — something many OSU students do — for what she thought would be a fun afternoon with her girlfriend at the time.

The two young women were holding hands when a man on the bus began screaming profanities at them.

The verbal harassment grew increasingly aggressive, so Scruppi said she got off at the nearest stop — nowhere near where she intended to — to get away from the unsafe situation and avoid harm.

She said she doesn’t blame these people who have yelled at or come onto her for their actions, though, because of the lack of education about, and representation of, the LGBTQ community in schools and American media.

She said she encourages everyone outside of the LGTBQ community to read accounts on the subject of sexuality and to listen to those who have a different sexual orientation. These simple practices can be done everyday, she said, with no strings attached.

“I promise that we’re not going to try to convert you,” Scruppi joked.

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