Out at Georgetown but Not at Home
Published: Thursday, October 18, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 18, 2012 18:10
When Travis Richardson (COL ’15) came out to his mother in high school, he was kicked out of his house and cut off from all communication with his family. “I would call her every day and she wouldn’t pick up, but I would leave her a message every day letting her know I was still alive at least,” he said.
“And then one day, I called her saying that it was a phase because I was done with it,” he said. “And then 15 minutes later she called me back, welcoming me back to the house. Things have been super since then — it’s been amazing. But it’s amazing because I’m a straight person to her.”
His mother put him through correctional “therapy,” and Richardson never brought up the subject with her again. No one in his hometown in Georgia knows his sexual orientation. But at Georgetown, Richardson is actively involved in GU Pride, worships with an LGBTQ prayer group and generally lives an openly gay life.
“I can call home two places, but neither of them is really my home. I have my “home,” and that’s in Georgia, and I have my home here in Georgetown,” he said. “I’ve spent my life in Georgia, and I have that emotional attachment. … But not being able to be who I am is hard.”
Richardson is one of many members of Georgetown’s LGBTQ community who must shift between two lives, one out the closet and one inside of it — a dual existence that can be difficult to navigate.
“It makes me want to come back to campus more,” said Diego Soto (COL ’13), who hasn’t told anyone in his family other than his mother that he is gay. “Because to be here and not really care, and then to go home and have to watch my every move … it’s just a lot easier not to be home.”
According to Sivagami Subbaraman, director of Georgetown’s LGBTQ Resource Center, this divide is one that many gay students navigate. While some must entirely separate their two lives, it’s more common for them to be out in varying degrees at home and at school.
“[Coming out] is not static — it’s a dynamic process,” Subbaraman explained. “It’s something you have to do in each new community.”
Soto, for example, began coming out to friends at home while he was at community college in Miami; that was also around the time he came out to his mother. While all his friends both at home and at school know that he is gay, his mom asked him not to tell the rest of his family, and the two haven’t spoken about it since.
“As much as I know my family loves me, I don’t know who’s going to not be OK with it as much, which sounds awful.”
Recent alum Allie Villarreal (COL ’12), who identifies as pansexual, or attracted to people of all gender identities and biological sexes, kept her orientation hidden from her parents for similar reasons. Villarreal helped organize her high school’s participation in the National Day of Silence, an annual event in which students take a vow of silence in order to protest harassment of LGBTQ students, when she was in high school. After she registered for the event, a packet of materials for distribution was sent to her house.
“When we got the package, my mom had opened it, and I came home for like a long weekend or something, and she was just like, ‘What is this? What does this mean?’” Villarreal said. “The only thing I could think of to say was, ‘I like boys, mom.’ And then her response was, ‘Oh, thank goodness; your dad was freaking out.’ That was really hard for me to hear.”
Although Villarreal was out to friends, she didn’t want to bring up her orientation with her parents after that experience.
Once she got to college, though, Villarreal became an active part of Georgetown’s LGBTQ community.
“I definitely came here being like, ‘Okay, show me where the gay pride group is.’ I was ready to go,” she said. “I got involved right away.”
Chris Lambert (SFS ’13), who didn’t come out to his hometown in upstate New York before coming to Georgetown, also looked forward to the freedom of college.
“At that point in my life, my M.O. was just ‘get out of small town America,’” he said.
According to Meghan Ferguson (COL ’15), president of GU Pride, the visibility provided by her organization and the university’s LGBTQ Resource Center is critical to supporting students who arrive at college ready to come out. Ferguson, who was out in high school, said she still enjoyed the choices college offered.
“I very much looked forward to being able to set my own terms,” she said.
Subbaraman reiterated the importance of the LGBTQ Resource Center, which was the first of its kind at a Catholic college. Now approaching its fifth anniversary, the center is still one of a few and is unique in that it is fully funded by the university. Less than a decade ago, Subbaraman said, gay students at Georgetown tended to keep their sexuality hidden both at home and at school.
Richardson decided to come out after his experiences with the First Year Orientation to Community Involvement program. Starting with a small group of people, Richardson eventually decided to come out to the entire group of FOCI participants that year.
“It was freeing, in a way, but it was also nerve wracking because I never know how people are going to react.”
For others, though, it takes longer to come to the decision. One recent graduate, who asked to remain anonymous, didn’t come out to any of his friends until the end of his freshman year at Georgetown because he wasn’t sure how they would take it. At the time, he was only out to three people in his hometown near Milwaukee.
“I still wanted to feel it out,” he said. “I wanted them to know me first, not put this wall up.”
Once out, the alum said he got nothing but support from the Georgetown community. The contrast, however, made it hard to go back home.
“All of a sudden you’re liberated, and there are people who know the real you. … I resented home and my parents and people there.”