SOGIE poster

Attendees and speakers mingled around tables full of snacks, baked goods and lemonade set up by SOGIE members. 

JMU’s Office of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) invited students to participate in an open mic night Oct. 12. The event was hosted for LGBTQ+ members to share their coming out stories or creative works. 

This event followed National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11, and it was SOGIE’s fourth annual “Coming Out Monologues” event. 

Attendees and speakers mingled around tables full of snacks, baked goods and lemonade set up by SOGIE members. Kaitlyn Cline, a social work major who also serves as the educational coordinator for SOGIE, greeted guests next to a poster board that provided details about the organization and what it stands for, as well as more information about the event itself. 

Cline said she wishes JMU would do more to support and showcase SOGIE but that volunteers work hard to network and spread the organization’s name and message. Cline said the turnout was much smaller than she was expecting, with around 20 attendees in the audience. 

“I feel like JMU is maybe not the most welcoming campus for its queer students,” Cline said. “It’s nice to have a safe space when JMU doesn’t provide one. It’s a little disappointing when you see that there is no one or not a huge turnout.”  

Lynn Vassar, a sophomore psychology major who’s a peer educator for SOGIE, was in charge of executing the event. Vassar encouraged attendees to sign up at Cline’s table if they wanted to speak as the night progressed.

Despite a smaller turnout, many speakers told their stories on stage. They ranged from happy stories of parents and friends accepting of LGBTQ individuals coming out, to awkward recounts of parents not quite understanding the nature of LGBTQ identities but still being supportive and sorrowful retellings of parents rejecting their true selves. 

Charlotte Terrill, a sophomore psychology major working with SOGIE as a peer educator, said she originally didn’t plan on sharing her story about her coming to terms with her asexuality.

“It’s such an interesting experience to be able to talk to so many people who want to listen to your story, especially after a lot of times in your life when you’re not able to,” Terrill said.

Vassar said it’s important that people feel comfortable enough to come out but that JMU hasn’t done a good job at establishing programs to create an inclusive campus.

 “Something I do hope [JMU does is] restart inclusivity training,” Vassar said. “I know it was canceled over the summer and completely halted for the time being.” 

The inclusion training was given to student staff members, but after concerns from the community, the university paused the training. Tim Miller, vice president for student affairs, explained JMU’s rationale in a video message addressed to the university community.

Vassar said SOGIE still does peer education, but it’s not on a large scale like the inclusivity training would’ve been.   

Terrill said she was disappointed with JMU because it rescinded and apologized for a social justice training SOGIE put out. She said she felt the training was a big step in the right direction to be able to talk about privilege, the queer community, critical race theory and other social issues. 

Mary-Hope Vass, director of communications and university spokesperson, said in an email that SOGIE has an advisory board made up of faculty, staff and administrators working to create more welcoming spaces for LGBTQ+individuals. 

“SOGIE continues to provide programs, resources, workshops/trainings, and services for LGBTQ+ students,” Vass said. “It is through these events that we work to create open and inclusive conversations to provide support but to also receive feedback on areas for the university to continue its work.”

The night ended with many cheers for the speakers and those who worked to put on the event. Vassar reminded the audience that the Lavender Room, located in the Student Success Center room 1310, is a safe and comforting place to meet others in the LGBTQ community. 

Vassar’s closing remark was to say they wish to create a secure environment for individuals to feel truly comfortable in their identities and sexuality.

“Homophobia thrives in ignorance and silence,” Terrill said. 

Contact Emma Swain at swaineg@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.