The Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity will be publishing its second annual Out List — a list of LGBTQ students, staff and faculty members as well as supporters of the community that serves as a “visual indicator of the community’s presence.” The list launches this Friday, Oct. 11, on National Coming Out Day.
The list was first debuted last year, after Craig Leets, current director of the Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity (RCSGD), was hired.
“Dr. Nathaniel Burke, who’s the coordinator of equity and inclusion for the Division of Student Affairs, wanted to do an Out List and mentioned that to me as I was interviewing for this position, actually, and one of the things they were looking for in a new director was someone who had done an Out List before,” said Leets, who managed an Out List at Portland State University for several years before he started at UCSB last fall.
The goal of the list is to create a “visual representation of the community and those who are supporting it,” Leets said.
“In many ways, LGBTQ identities are invisible, right?” he said. “We can’t look at someone and know they are LGBTQ, and so LGBTQ people look around them on a campus and they don’t know who else is LGBTQ and don’t know who’s supportive or welcoming to LGBTQ people.”
“Seeing those folks publicly acknowledging themselves as LGBTQ or as supporters can be really powerful for a student to feel like they’re not the only LGBTQ in their class, in their department or on campus.”
While this year’s list will be launched on Friday, Leets updates the list on a rolling basis even after the deadline for sign-ups passes.
Last year, 471 students, staff and faculty signed up for the 2018 Out List over the course of the year; as of Tuesday afternoon, the 2019 Out List was at 494 sign-ups.
“We’re really excited that this early in the year … we’ve already exceeded that number from last year, but my hope is that we’ll get a few more and be able to get above 500 for when we release the list on Friday,” Leets said.
Leets emphasized that the list is not meant to be an “all-encompassing” list of LGBTQ individuals on the campus, particularly since there are many people who cannot be out publicly, either for personal or professional reasons.
While Leets acknowledged that there was the potential that the list could be used for “nefarious” reasons, he also said that anyone who signed up for the list was reminded during the sign-up process that they weren’t obligated to include any information they didn’t feel comfortable being publicly available.
“I think it’s one of those things that it’s impactful for the people who need it, but for people who don’t, I’m not sure they know it exists,” he added.
Stephenson Brooks Whitestone, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Communication who was on the Out List last year, emphasized the importance of such a resource to combat the “the alienation and isolation that many queer students feel — from the families, from their classmates, even from childhood friends,” she said in an email.
“The [Out List] is [a] tangible symbol of queer people living their lives openly and honestly,” Whitestone added. “The knowledge that queer people live, survive and thrive here at UCSB is both comforting and empowering.”
Whitestone said that no students have reached out to her specifically because she’s on the list, but said she still likes “having [her] name on the list, and in a sense, adding to the length of the list.”
Whitestone noted that visibility can be a “tricky issue in the queer community” due to pressure to come out.
“But no one should become visible if they do not feel safe — physically or emotionally — to do so. Safety comes first. Opportunities for safe “out” living will come later. There’s never any need to put oneself at risk,” she said.
Professor Alan Fridlund in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, who signed up for the Out List in 2018, said he discusses LGBTQ issues in class often, either in scientific or personal contexts, and discloses his own sexual orientation during these discussions.
“Students have described relief at being able to talk freely with someone both familiar with the science and has also navigated a personal “coming out” journey,” Fridlund said in an email.
“Movies and TV are making LGBT characters trendy, and the old stigmas about being LGBT are diminishing,” Fridlund added.
However, there are still a number of students who come from families that view being LGBTQ “as sin, moral defect or mental illness,” he noted. This is where the Out List can come into play, he said.
“For these students especially, some of whom may be conflicted about their own LGBT inclinations, it’s important to understand that LGBT people — like their non-LGBT counterparts — are just normal everyday folks.”
A version of this article appeared on pg. 5 of the Oct. 10, 2019 print edition of the Daily Nexus.