When she was a high school senior visiting Bowdoin as a swimming recruit, it was an OutPeers and OutAllies list in an Osher dorm that made Kat Gaburo ’19 feel confident that the team she would soon join would be a welcoming place.
“In looking at it for 30 seconds, I could pick out at least 10 swimmers I’d met earlier in the day,” Gaburo said. “As someone who was not out in high school, knowing that the team I was joining was an inclusive and supportive group was a game changer for me and made my transition to college that much easier.”
Many students say the OutPeer and OutAllies bathroom lists have been instrumental in making visible the support systems available for LGBTQIA+ students on campus. “It allows new students on campus to see that queer people exist at Bowdoin—and do so proudly,” said Gaburo.
Ryan Telingator ’21 explained that being raised by gay parents influenced his decision to join the program as an OutAlly. Telingator highlighted his role as a leader of the Creating Compassionate Leadership in Maine Boys (CCLIMB) program as an area where OutAlly training was particularly useful in discussing sexuality with middle school boys.
Kate Stern, Associate Dean of Students for Diversity & Inclusion and Director of the Center for Sexuality, Women & Gender (SWAG), explained that the idea for the current OutPeers and OutAllies program began before she arrived at Bowdoin.
“Before the SWAG center and before I was hired, students came together to form what was called QueerPeers, and there wasn’t a training involved. Students who wanted to lend their name publicly to say, ‘If you’re looking for support, contact us,’ did it on their own,” Stern said.
The QueerPeers program became an official program under Stern, with its name changed to ‘OutPeers.’ Stern also instituted training sessions and quickly saw the list expand.
“After 10 names made the list, we wanted to throw a party, and after 20, we actually threw a party and invited President Barry Mills,” Stern said.
After the OutPeers program began to flourish, a straight student approached Stern and asked if he could participate. After consulting the OutPeers, Stern decided to create the OutAllies program and make a second list to go along with that of the OutPeers in bathrooms. Recruiting from across campus was especially important to Stern in the early days of the program.
“We made a concerted effort to have a member from every athletic team participate in this training, in addition to those involved in the office of Residential Life,” she said.
After the numbers on the list swelled into the hundreds, Stern and the OutPeers decided it was time to combine the two lists.
“Three or four years ago, we decided it was time to merge the lists where students who want to be out on the poster have their names bolded and in blue,” said Stern.
The training process is very similar for both OutPeers and OutAllies. Students spend a four-hour session examining gender and sexuality, language used around campus and how best to be an ally. For OutAllies, there is also an hour-long panel where OutPeers share their stories. During OutPeer training, this hour is used to analyze the coming out process, particularly for students on a college campus.
Stern explained that the large number of athletes present at training sessions is in part due to outreach.
“When I arrived at Bowdoin, I spent a lot of time researching places where it is hardest to come out. The most common answer is on an athletic team,” said Stern.
Stern cited a “great partnership” with Ashmead White Director of Athletics Tim Ryan, in addition to Bowdoin coaches, as central to the active involvement of athletics in the OutPeers and OutAllies program.
“When I talk to my colleagues at other schools about the partnership I have with athletics, they’re blown away by it,” said Stern.
Telingator, similarly, issued his support for the role of Bowdoin athletics in the OutPeers and OutAllies program.
“I think, given the state of professional sports today, it’s great that male athletes at Bowdoin are actively trying to create a more inclusive space on their teams,” said Telingator.
He added that despite the current length of the list, it could always be improved: “It would be amazing if 2,000 names were on the list. There’s no reason everyone on campus can’t spend three to six hours on this training.”
Stern noted that oftentimes, the names help students find a proctor, friend or teammate who they know they can talk to. “I don’t alway know that when someone is approached, whether they are aware it’s in the capacity of OutPeer or OutAlly, or rather as a friend,” said Stern.
Although Bowdoin has become far more supportive of LGBTQIA+ students over the past several decades, heteronormativity is still prevalent on campus. Assistant Professor of Sociology Theo Greene says challenges remain both in and out of the classroom.
“In the classroom, we often think of heterosexuality as the default in how we often approach certain conversation topics, whether it is in terms of the literature we read, the history we engage in, the kinds of cultures we study,” he said.
Bowdoin’s size, he added, poses another problem.
“Bowdoin is a very heteronormative campus in a lot of ways, so it makes it very difficult for a lot of LGBTQ students on campus to find and build the kinds of communities they might in a much larger institution where they may be at a greater critical mass,” he said.
However, the OutPeers and OutAllies lists have been changing this by educating the broader Bowdoin community on the intricacies of sexuality and gender and by fostering allyship on campus. All students are encouraged to join, particularly those who may be underrepresented on the lists.
“The list is overwhelmingly those who identify as women, and I believe that it would greatly improve the masculine culture on campus to have more men identifying themselves as allies to the LGBTQIA+ community,” said Gaburo.