PRISM celebrates accepting one’s sexuality

On Oct. 13 at 8 p.m., PRISM, the on-campus support group for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people, hosted “The Coming Out Monologues” in the New Library auditorium. The event, at which several past and present College students and one faculty member shared stories about how they revealed their sexual orientations to the world, was scheduled to coincide with “Queer Acceptance Month” and came just two days after “National Coming Out Day.”

Noel Ramirez, senior women’s and gender studies and communication studies major and president of PRISM, kicked things off by declaring the organization’s goal to encourage students to accept their sexual orientations as part of their identity.

The first monologist was Angel Hernandez, junior sociology and women’s and gender studies major and vice president of PRISM, who told his story of being raised in a strict Cuban Catholic family.

“Before I could come out to my friends and my family, I had to come out to myself,” he said.

One Christmas day, Hernandez said, he let one of his friends pierce his left ear. When his mother saw the piercing, she asked him if he was gay. When he answered “Yes,” she told him that once he turned 18, he would have to move out of the house for good. To this day, Hernandez does not feel his relationship with his family is good.

“At the cost of being who I am, I lost my family,” he said.

The next speaker was Tobias Grace, a 1968 graduate of the College and editor of Out in Jersey magazine.

“I was happy to be invited here in my capacity as a historical monument,” he jested in his opening.

Grace went on to describe a time when the on-campus community was not so accepting of alternative lifestyles, and being openly gay could get a student expelled and make a person unemployable in the education field.

Like many of the other speakers, Grace described how he led a double life, presenting one side of himself to his family while living another life as a male hustler on Christopher Street in New York.

“You always had to worry you would meet someone from one life in the other,” he said.

Grace also described the profound effect that New York’s Stonewall riots had on the gay community. Though he was in Boston when the riots took place, Grace remembered returning to Christopher Street to find that, in his words, “it looked like a war had been fought.”

Grace found himself deeply moved when he saw a young man sweeping glass off the street, while singing the lyrics to “Somewhere” from “West Side Story.”

“That was the moment the wall dissolved between the two parts of my life,” he said.

Carol Evangelisto, a counselor for Psychological Services, took the podium next. Though not gay herself, Evangelisto wanted to assure the audience that her office is prepared to help students in coming to terms with their sexuality.

Evangelisto held up a small, lavender pamphlet, Psychological Counseling Services’ “Coming Out” brochure. Her hope, she said, is that students who did not attend the “Coming Out Monologues” might still find the brochure somewhere on campus and be encouraged in the coming-out process.

Brad Gilbert, freshman women’s and gender studies and English major, spoke next. He described how his conflicted feelings about his own sexuality led him to fall into depression and how this raised concerns for his parents.

“They almost had me committed because they thought I was suicidal,” he said.

But Gilbert found the strength to bounce back and, in the next few years, became an activist for gay rights at his high school. He was instrumental in establishing a chapter of the Gay-Straight Alliance at the school.

Next to speak was Julie Bergen, a sophomore transfer student to the College, who talked about the difficulty she initially had in coming out as a lesbian. At first, she could only accept that she might be bisexual.

“I thought I could identify as half-gay so I could be half-normal,” she said.

However, a flamboyant girlfriend in high school helped her to better accept who she was and be able to better commit to her identity as a lesbian.

“I was everyone’s favorite dyke,” she said. “Let them call me a dyke if they love me as a dyke.”

Dr. Benny Chan, an assistant professor of chemistry at the College who is openly gay, followed Bergen. He spoke of how a person’s sexuality can play a role in the workplace. He said he once refused a high-paying job at ExxonMobil because of the company’s poor record on employee rights for homosexuals.

An open floor session followed the monologues in which audience members were asked to share their experiences of coming out. Several audience members stood and described how they found the courage to admit to their friends and families that they were either homosexual or bisexual.

Ramirez took the podium once again to close this successful event.

“I’m very touched, moved but, most of all, honored to be in this room with such brave people,” he said. “To be quite frank, it’s fucking hard. It’s fucking hard to come out of the closet.”