OCEANSIDE — A panel of MiraCosta College students and invited guests spoke candidly to a packed lecture room audience about their LGBT experiences on Oct. 9.
The Coming Out Forum was organized by the MiraCosta College Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) Club to give LGBT students a platform to share their stories, and educate college teachers and fellow students about the LGBT community.
Panel members were invited from a wide range of backgrounds to shed light on the diversity within the LGBT community.
“Coming out in one community is different than another,” Steven Deineh, MiraCosta College instruction librarian and club co-adviser, said.
Discussion topics were personal and sometimes painful, but the atmosphere remained informative and light, with jokes often following riveting stories about coming out, fear for personal safety and being judged by friends and family.
Transgender panel speaker Melanie Balka said she recalls her grandmother telling her she would grow up to become the head of the family as the oldest son.
“I didn’t want to let my grandmother down,” Balka said. “I was raised not to be a certain way.”
Balka said it was a struggle to accept who she was.
“One day I thought oh my God, I’m a drag queen.”
There was also discussion on how challenging simple daily experiences can be for LGBT students.
Transgender students said it is uncomfortable repeatedly explaining to teachers they prefer to be called by a name and gender that is different than the one listed on their school registration.
Panel speaker Brooke Culotta said she is in the process of legally changing her name and gender, and sits through class with the constant dread of being mis-addressed as Daniel or he.
She said she purposely selects teaches who are Safe Space certified and understand her gender recognition choice, without having to continuously go over the issue.
“I don’t want to be having to come out to my professors all the time,” Culotta said.
LGBT students said another daily struggle is that they feel they are being judged when they use a public restroom, and are wary of judgment turning to violence.
Judgment does not only come from fellow students, it was also brought up that a MiraCosta College board candidate has strongly stated her opposition to allowing transgender students to use their self-recognized gender restroom on campus.
Panel members also discussed expectations and labeling within the LGBT community.
“Each community wants you to be something else,” speaker Jordan Daniels said.
The discussion helped shed light on the variety of experiences LGBT students face.
“Going through high school the narrative was ‘Will and Grace,’” Adam Weir, GSA student inter-council representative and event moderator, said. “Will and Jack was not my experience. I had a tumultuous coming out. A single story is dangerous to us.”
Deineh has served as GSA club adviser for five years, and said club membership has grown in LGBT and straight student members.
“Everyone has family members, neighbors and friends who are LGBT, whether they know it or not,” Deineh said.
“It’s important to give LGBT students support, and treat them with fairness. In public education kids should feel supported.”
The forum preceded National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11.