On Monday, hundreds of students wore yellow in support of the LGBTIQA community at the College. Organized by the Bowdoin Queer Straight Alliance (BQSA), Yellow Shirt Day is one of many events that took place as part of Coming Out week at Bowdoin.
This year, the BQSA spray-painted the slogan “I AM __” on the shirts and provided markers for students to fill in the blank.
“A lot of people said ‘I am an ally’, and other people said ‘I am queer’, ‘I am x y z’,” said BQSA Co-President Simon Bordwin ’13. “I think that it was making more of a statement for people to have to choose what their shirt was going to look like.”
On the inaugural Yellow Shirt Day in 2010, shirts were printed with “Gay? Fine by me,” and last year the shirts read “Respect. All Genders. All Sexualities.”
Bordwin said that the BQSA intended this year’s shirts to be more ambiguous after it received negative feedback on the slogans in previous years. In particular, he noted a 2010 opinion piece in the Orient by Jimmy Pasch ’11.
“He thought that the ‘Gay? Fine by me’ shirts were sending the message that queer students need the affirmation of other people,” said Bordwin. “He was asking, ‘why should I care if that’s fine by you?’”
Bordwin said that although he felt that the ‘Respect’ shirts did a better job, but the BQSA still wanted to improve on the message the shirts were sending.
“The ‘I AM __’ shirts were less about showing other people how you feel about them, and more about saying who you are,” said Bordwin.
Kate Stern, BQSA advisor and director of the Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity, said that she liked the way this year’s shirts were designed.
“Labels are a tricky thing, and it’s much more empowering to pick your own label,” she said.
Many athletic teams ordered shirts, as did Residential Life and several College Houses. Stern said that she is grateful for the support of the athletic department, but noted that team involvement can produce some mixed reactions.
“If a whole team comes to pick up shirts, there are some people who are excited, there are other people on the team who are unsure how they feel about it,” she said. “I know that there are students on teams who chose not to [wear the shirts], or chose to wear them underneath a sweatshirt. These students who aren’t in a place where they can support the cause still have to think about it all day long.”
Other events this week included the Coming Out Stories Forum, a speaker from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, a party at Burnett House tonight and a trip to the Coastal Studies Center this Sunday. BQSA also handed out rainbow flags to local businesses.
Tuesday’s “Coming Out Stories” provided an opportunity for students to find support. Students could speak at the forum, send in anonymous stories to be read aloud, or simply go to show their support.
“We wanted it to be more of a community building exercise,” said Bordwin. “People don’t normally get the chance to share their stories.”
About a dozen students participated in the forum, said Stern.
None of the storytellers were comfortable sharing their stories with the Orient, but Stern said there were common themes among the stories people shared.
“People talked about coming out to siblings, both older and younger, and some people talked about these really supportive efforts their siblings made when their parents weren’t able to,” she said. “A lot of people were talking about crappy things their parents said. People also talked about this idea that you don’t just come out once, but that you come out every day for your whole life, and for some people, that feels like some giant burden, and other people felt like it was very liberating.”
Bordwin said that the BQSA tried to spread what they felt was an important message about coming out through the forum.
“We tried to convey both in the email inviting people and at the forum that coming out is not necessarily the right thing for everyone,” he said. “It’s very personal. The concept was to share if you want, but there’s no problem with not sharing.”
Both Bordwin and Stern said that participation in the events of Coming Out week has gone up over the years.
“From years past, we’ve seen a lot more participation and enthusiasm on behalf of straight students,” said Bordwin. “I think it’s awesome.”