Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
We inform. You decide.
Friday, September 30, 2022
<p>Natalie Heller, a 20-year-old finance junior, writes her name on the door at National Coming Out Day on the Plaza of the Americas on Oct. 12, 2015, to support coming out. Heller said writing her name on the door meant not being afraid. “If someone were to walk by and see my name, I wouldn’t care,” Heller said. “The same time last year I wouldn’t have been willing to.”</p>

Natalie Heller, a 20-year-old finance junior, writes her name on the door at National Coming Out Day on the Plaza of the Americas on Oct. 12, 2015, to support coming out. Heller said writing her name on the door meant not being afraid. “If someone were to walk by and see my name, I wouldn’t care,” Heller said. “The same time last year I wouldn’t have been willing to.”

"What is wrong with you and your sister?" Carolyna Guillen’s father asked after he found out both his daughters identified as a lesbians.

But then her father said he would love her no matter what. He kept his word, Guillen said. Now she is UF Pride Student Union’s internal vice president.

"He’s like the light of my world," said the 20-year-old UF microbiology and cell science junior. "It hit me hard when he said that."

Guillen was one of about 20 students to celebrate coming-out stories during the 27th anniversary of National Coming Out Day on the Plaza of the Americas on Monday. The UF Office of LGBT Affairs and Pride Student Union collaborated to host a gallery of influential people in the LGBTQ+community and a timeline showing the progress of LGBTQ+ rights.

Guillen, who helped organize the event, said the day was about realizing the individual power each student has to help LGBTQ+ people feel accepted.

UF’s campus has not always been inviting to the LGBTQ+ community, said Chuck Woods, former UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences faculty member.

Woods said he was pulled from his student dorm by a University Police investigator in 1959.

"We have information that you are a homosexual," Woods recalls the investigator saying, leading Woods to an interrogation room at the police station.

He was shown a letter from J. Wayne Reitz stating the university wanted to help Woods with his "problem."

"Had I admitted anything, I would have been kicked out," he said.

The investigation was part of the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee that searched to expel homosexual students and faculty in Florida universities. Known as the Johns Committee, UF was the first university to be searched in 1958.

Although UF’s past was dark, Woods said, it has made progress: It founded the Gay and Lesbian Student Union in 1991, which later became Pride Student Union in 2000.

Enjoy what you're reading? Get content from The Alligator delivered to your inbox

In 2004, UF’s LGBT Affairs was established, providing support to LGBTQ+ students.

But being "out" is still difficult for some students on campus. UF journalism senior Bradley Norman said PSU’s public approach to coming out left a sour taste in his mouth.

"I think PSU and UF have done a lot with people that can be out and proud," the 22-year-old said. "But sometimes it’s like people who aren’t out get left out."

Guillen said PSU strives to create a non-judgmental community for students struggling to come out, providing a safe place for discussion.

"You don’t have to be out to your family," Guillen said. "If you just want to be out to us and your friends, that’s fine because you are still welcome… Anything that happens in Pride doesn’t leave Pride."

Contact Danielle Veenstra at dveenstra@alligator.org and follow her on Twitter @_Veenstra_

Natalie Heller, a 20-year-old finance junior, writes her name on the door at National Coming Out Day on the Plaza of the Americas on Oct. 12, 2015, to support coming out. Heller said writing her name on the door meant not being afraid. “If someone were to walk by and see my name, I wouldn’t care,” Heller said. “The same time last year I wouldn’t have been willing to.”

Veronica Cinibulk, a 19-year-old UF psychology senior, reads about influential people in the LGBTQ community during the Pride Student Union and the Office of LGBT Affairs’ event celebrating National Coming Out Day on Oct. 12, 2015. Cinibulk said she understood why there was conflict over LGBT issues with the lack of education at that time. “We still have a long way to go,” she said.

Buttons wait to be picked up by visitors on the information table at the National Coming Out Day event on the Plaza of the Americas on Oct. 12, 2015. LB Hannahs (not pictured), director of LGBT Affairs and social justice coordinator, said that pronouns can put a gender on someone that they haven’t chosen. “They are very small words, but they have a lot of meaning to them,” Hannahs said.

Pride Student Union ambassadors discuss the history of LGBTQ rights and the resources offered for LGBTQ students at UF at the National Coming Out Day celebration on Oct. 12, 2015. Maggie Creegan (right), a 23-year-old graduate assistant at LGBT Affairs, said the timeline teaches people about LGBTQ individuals who have been a big part of history. Students may not have learned about them any other way, she said.

21-year-old Philippe Holas (left) and 20-year-old Molly Behan dance together on the Reitz Union Breezeway on Oct. 12, 2015. The Florida Swing Dancing Club gave swing lessons for beginning, intermediate and advanced dancers.

David Ayers chases Maddox Corcoran, a 20-year-old UF economics junior, on Turlington Plaza on Oct. 12, 2015. Gators Humans vs. Zombies began its four-day Summer game on Wednesday.

Support your local paper
Donate Today
The Independent Florida Alligator has been independent of the university since 1971, your donation today could help #SaveStudentNewsrooms. Please consider giving today.

Powered by SNworks Solutions by The State News
All Content © 2022 The Independent Florida Alligator and Campus Communications, Inc.