Western University of Health Sciences students, faculty and staff joined others across the country in celebrating National Coming Out Day and Coming Out as an Ally Day on Oct. 11.

For the second year, Lambda & Friends gave away free “Gay? Fine By Me” T-shirts and encouraged everyone to wear the shirts on Oct. 11. The club, which promotes the acceptance of and provides support to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students, faculty and staff at WesternU, also held a luncheon speech about allied health care.

Lambda & Friends gave away 500 T-shirts last year, running out faster than expected, said Bojan, president of Lambda & Friends. They took a group photo of supporters wearing the shirts last year and this year.

“It was wonderful to see that because nobody expected such a positive turnout,” Bojan said of last year’s photo. “When everyone took the picture it was a great feeling, a reaffirmation that there was a lot of support at the school.”

Whether the tradition continues will be up to future Lambda officers, said Darci Evans, Lambda & Friends secretary, but she hopes it will happen every year. October is early in the school year and giving out the shirts allows new students to see the welcoming environment they’re entering, she said.

“Gay? Fine By Me” is a perfect nutshell statement that is to the point and powerful, Bojan said.

“It states what your opinion is, but it doesn’t state whether you’re gay or not,” he said. “On this issue, it’s fine by you.”

The Gay? Fine By Me T-shirt project started at Duke University in spring 2003 in response to the perception that the campus was homophobic. A group of friends gave away the T-shirts with an anti-homophobic message to more than 2,000 campus and community members. The project spread to other campuses and Fine By Me Inc. became a nonprofit corporation in 2005.

More than 75,000 shirts have been distributed at more than 250 college campuses and in high schools, businesses, religious communities and civic organizations, said Andrew Nurkin, executive director of the Gay? Fine By Me organization.

By publicly declaring their support for LGBT people, those who wear the shirts make the statement that homophobia will not be tolerated in their communities, he said. The project is needed in a lot of communities, but has worked best on college campuses, he said.

“People who are questioning their sexuality tend to do that in high school and college,” Nurkin said. “We felt that a lot of students would benefit in their own personal journeys by having public allies and public support.”

The theme for National Coming Out Day 2007 is “Talk About It,” according to the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization.

This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the 1987 Gay and Lesbian March on Washington and the unfurling of the AIDS Quilt on the National Mall. National Coming Out Day was celebrated a year to the day later as a way of continuing the spirit of openness, honesty and visibility that the march and the AIDS Quilt presentation inspired, according to the HRC Web site.

National Coming Out Day is especially important at medical schools, where a number of LGBT students feel unsafe or unsupported, said Andrea Knittel, American Medical Student Association LGBT Health Action Committee chairwoman.

LGBT medical students and physicians face higher rates of discrimination, harassment, violence and career barriers than their heterosexual counterparts, according to AMSA.

“The only thing shown statistically to affect people’s attitudes about LGBT people is contact with LGBT people,” Knittel said. “Events like National Coming Out Day makes it comfortable to get to know LGBT members of your class or to get to know people in your class who strongly identify with helping that community.”

Every medical student will see lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender patients, regardless of where they practice or what field they enter, Knittel said.

LGBT patients face higher rates of preventable and treatable diseases. Most of these health disparities are due to poor provider-patient rapport, lack of psychosocial support systems and perpetuation of myths, not to any biological or physiological reason, according to AMSA.

“Understanding where any of your patients are coming from can only help you as you provide care to them,” Knittel said.

 

For more information on:

Lambda & Friends or National Coming Out as an Ally Day events at WesternU, e-mail Lambdaclub@westernu.edu.

The Gay? Fine By Me T-shirt project, visit the Web site at www.finebyme.org.

The Human Rights Campaign, visit the Web site at www.hrc.org.

American Medical Student Association, visit the Web site at www.amsa.org.