Inside, it’s dark. It’s cramped. It’s isolated. But there’s light shining from under the door, voices radiating just beyond the wood.
Every day, LGBTQ+ individuals face the choice of staying with what they’ve lived with their entire lives, or turning the handle, cracking the door and taking the first step to come out.
October is LGBTQ+ Awareness Month, and with it come nationwide celebrations of Pride and Coming Out.
The homage coincides with this year’s UCF Homecoming, which bears the theme “Knights Come Together.”
“We felt the theme ‘Knights Come Together’ defined homecoming — UCF Knights’ past, present, and future coming together to celebrate our university,” said Rachel Additon, media director on this year’s Homecoming executive board. “Our theme celebrates every kind of Knight and inadvertently encompasses the flourishing diversity that exists at UCF.”
Through the years, UCF has become a campus where every Knight, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, can come together.
The implementation of specific programs has landed the university as the only Florida school ranked among the top 50 LGBT-friendly colleges in the nation by the organization Campus Pride last year.
One of such initiatives, implemented through the Social Justice and Advocacy department, is the Safe Zone, which provides training to students and staff hoping to make the university more LGBTQ+ friendly.
It’s a place where many students feel comfortable enough to not only come together with their fellow Knights, but also to share their stories with each other as well.
Cameron Bechard, a freshman forensic science major who identifies as bisexual, came out to her mom just last year. She had a crush on a girl and was really afraid to share those feelings.
“Every time I even mentioned the word bisexual or loving two different genders, my mom would completely shut me down and say, ‘Oh, people who are bisexual are just confused. They don’t know what they want,’” she said.
Bechard said her mom tried for weeks after that to change her mind. She tried to match her with a coworker and talked to her friends, urging them to convince her she was wrong.
That all changed one night when her mom told her about a friend’s daughter, who is also bisexual, saying she finally understood.
“I’m lucky, I am, that my mother actually did come around, and I didn’t end up like thousands of other LGBT teens out there who don’t have a home or anyone to support them,” said Bechard, close to tears.
Other students’ stories weren’t as successful.
Alejandro Watson, a cinema studies junior who identifies as transgender and pansexual, said his family didn’t take the news well.
When Watson came out to his brother over a text, he didn’t respond for three hours.
“He didn’t respond to me because he was crying the entire time because he thought I was just broken,” he said.
Now, even though he and his brother talk from time to time, he said that his coming out has prevented them from becoming as close as they could be.
“That’s definitely stuck with me a lot,” he said. “I mean, I’ve lost friends. Some people don’t talk to me or call me names. But this is my brother, you know. It’s different.”
But both students said that, here, at UCF the people they’ve met have been nothing but accepting of their identities.
This welcoming atmosphere toward diversity is what Courtney Buzan, the adviser of the Homecoming executive board, said influenced this year’s theme.
“It’s not so much specific to any of the social issues going on today, but unofficially it does encompass them because we want to celebrate all walks of Knighthood,” she said.
Deanna Ferrante is a Senior Staff Writer for the Central Florida Future.