Coming out, stepping up

LGBTQ encourages students to take pride in who they are in the face of an uneasy campus climate


Kevin Remington

Coordinator Rallie Snowden shows her pride and encourages others to do the same. Photo by Lindsey Burke.

Lindsey Burke

Coordinator Rallie Snowden has a lot in store for expanding Washington and Lee’s LGBTQ campus resources and events.

On Oct. 6, W&L kicked off the 26th annual National Coming Out Week to remind students that one of our most basic tools is the power of coming out.

W&L hosted several events for the week, including a cupcake kick-off, T-shirt Day, ally photo booth and a “Sharing Coming Out Stories” panel.

“I think [National Coming Out Week] was better than previous years and I was more aware that it was happening,” said Leah Burton ‘16. “Students are already under a lot of pressure at school because of academics and coming out may add to their stress. The LGBTQ presence and resources aren’t as publicized as they could be.”

Getting the message out is number one on Snowden’s agenda. She hopes to achieve this by engaging more students, rather than just RAs and Peer Counselors, in ally training sessions. The list of allies, or people who support the LGBTQ community on campus, is extensive but not necessarily active. In current ally trainings, students and staff discuss and practice real-life scenarios.

“[LGBTQ training] is an open forum, not a judgmental one,” said Snowden. “And that’s where we start off, by saying, ‘Here is the climate, and here’s how you could, in any way that you’re comfortable, be someone who goes against that and changes it for the positive’.”

Snowden hopes to publicize W&L’s upcoming Equality Gala in March, which in the past attracted undergraduates, law students and Virginia Military Institute students.

While event involvement is a progression towards a more accepting environment, Snowden said, “The biggest way that I would hope students become involved would be for students to address things, in whatever way they feel comfortable, in the moment that it happens.”

According to Snowden, this could even mean leaving the room once an inappropriate comment arises. “Even if someone says something offensive and you stand up and walk out of the room, that is a very loud statement,” she said.

TJ Fisher ’15, President of the GLBT Equality Initiative, said, “The best way to move forward is for individual students to continue to make connections across Greek organizations and other groups.”

Diversity on W&L’s campus is a recurring discussion. With such a small campus, Snowden worries that negative comments can trigger a chain of harmful responses and fuel a more negative climate.

“If you’re not a member of the [LGBTQ] community and you hear negative things, that may inform your views,” said Snowden. “It may also make you feel like, ‘If I’m different, am I going to get lumped into something negative? Or do I have to conform into something else in order to be a W&L student?’”

Fisher thought National Coming Out Week was a success, especially in terms of making allies feel welcomed into their programming. However, he agrees that W&L still has room for improvement diversity-wise.

“The atmosphere for GLBT students is not as welcoming as it could be, in part because our community sometimes encourages conformity,” said Fisher. “I hope that we all will continue to work towards more fully embracing the growing diversity on campus, and allow one another to be ourselves authentically.”

Snowden hopes that negative comments are mitigated at their starting point, beginning with a simple “Hey, that’s not cool.”

“My concern is if there’s a topic that students are unfamiliar with or they don’t feel comfortable talking about, then they just won’t talk about it,” Snowden said. “And that’s the culture and climate that I’m hoping to change by increasing visibility.”

On Nov. 19th, at 12pm, a group of allies will be going to the Lexington Courthouse to celebrate marriage equality in Virginia, a recent development in the state. At the event, called Witness for Love, allies will be giving flowers to the courthouse clerk and hosting a short service honoring the right to marry for all people in Virginia.

Students looking to get involved with the LGBTQ community or become an ally have a number of on-campus resources, including information swapping groups with the LGBTQ Advisory Board, and a weekly confidential support group with Snowden on Wednesdays at 4 pm.

The GLBT Equality Initiative is a student organization which works closely with faculty to promote equal rights, justice and opportunity for all individuals in our community, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.