Grey Weinstein (they/he)
On Thursday, October 1, students at the University of Michigan gathered for OUTx, a presentation of students’ coming out stories sponsored by the Ross School of Business. The event was part of Ross Coming Out Week, which spanned from September 28 to October 2, in anticipation of National Coming Out Day on October 11. The week was jam packed with activities, but the OUTx event stood out as a truly fantastic example of LGBTQ+ community and creativity on campus.
A lot of hard work went into the planning of OUTx. The event is heavily associated with Out for Business (OFB), the LGBTQ+ student association at the Ross School of Business, which spent weeks creating and promoting the event. However, it was also sponsored by several other student organizations who partnered with OFB to design OUTx 2020, including the Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs, Michigan Business Women, and the Black Business Students Association. I spoke to Dustin Huibregtse, the vice president of events at Out for Business, about OUTx. Huibregtse is an MBA student and a previous employee of TEDxMinneapolis, so he brings his expertise in public speaking to the event.
“This year has been a milestone, in both a deeper look into why we celebrate Ross Coming Out Week and for whom,” Huibregtse told me. “This year Pride was a month of solidarity as part of the broader Black Lives Matter and anti-racism movements, and we wanted to change OFB from the inside and out to be rooted in and dedicated to raising intersectional and marginalized voices.”
Out for Business has been organizing Ross Coming Out Week since 2013, and since its birth seven years ago it has changed and evolved. This year, leadership faced the additional challenge of organizing a remote event during a pandemic, and Out for Business truly rose to the challenge. As someone who has sat through her fair share of painfully awkward ice breakers, Zoom breakout rooms, and tone deaf lectures, I was blown away by how engaging and captivating OUTx was this year. “We know that, regardless of what we do, it is going to be very hard work, so might as well shoot for something truly inspiring,” said Huibregtse. “We also knew that people are not inspired by much at all during this epidemic, and so we had a big broad chalkboard to re-imagine what is possible for ourselves and others.”
The presentation began with a performance from Risky Business, the Ross School of Business’s very own rock band. These student musicians truly deserve all the praise in the world; their musical and dance renditions of classic pride anthems were incredible. I have difficulty conveying how impressed I was (as were my fellow attendees, it was obvious) by the sheer talent in their performance. Although Risky Business set the bar high, the rest of the speakers did not disappoint. Krista Su, Charli Brissey, Thomas Krouse, and Thomya Goode shared inspiring stories of coming out to family and friends.
Listening to these powerful and very personal stories, I was reminded why having a vibrant and supportive LGBTQ+ community is so important. Being in the closet is isolating, lonely, and frightening; it can make you feel like you’re hiding a dirty secret, like there’s something wrong with who you are. Unfortunately, staying closeted is often the only option for many people, physically as well as emotionally. But even for those of us who are not put in danger by coming out, it is still a frightening process.
OUTx served as a reminder that coming out is about living as your true, authentic self. It’s about embracing your identity and sharing the “real you” with the people you love. OUTx framed coming out as a sometimes difficult, often emotional, but always worthwhile venture, and it did so while celebrating the strength and resilience of the LGBTQ+ community at Michigan, both out and closeted.
Huibregtse put it perfectly when he said, “Sharing coming out stories is activism, political, humbling, gut-wrenching, powerful, and compassionate. Any time you hear or have the chance to bear witness to someone's coming out story, you are being honored and shown a genuine respect by that person, and hopefully you can pause and listen carefully, and walk away bolder than before.”
The highlight of the evening was a talk given by Andrea Jenkins, a writer, poet, and oral historian. As the vice president of Minneapolis City Council, Jenkins is also the first African American transgender woman to be elected to public office in America. Jenkins shared her story of growing up, coming out, and transitioning amidst the gay liberation movement of the 1980s. Jenkins was remarkable in her ability to remain hopeful and inspired about the future, even as she reckoned with the trauma, marginalization, and oppression that trans women of color continue to bear. Her talk was a reminder that black trans women have historically led and continue to lead the fight for LGBTQ+ liberation. She shared an original poem, “Quarantine Soul,” which pondered the implications of the pandemic, police brutality, and community organizing.
OUTx was an uplifting expression of queer and trans solidarity that did not shy away from engaging in complicated topics like the intersection of LGBTQ+ and racial identity. The hard work its organizers put into the event showed; its engaging and well organized format made the event quite enjoyable for participants. As Huibregtse summed it up, OUTx was “a bright glittery rainbow light in a time when we feel surrounded by a lot of darkness.”