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AU Launches Coming Out Group

By Katie Kather

Photo by Katie Kather

The year 2011 will go down in history as a transformational year for the LGBT community. On June 24, New York passed a law to allow same sex marriage. Sept. 20 saw don’t ask, don’t tell come to an end.

However, college campuses still struggle to provide a safe place for LGBT students, according to experts.

Sue Rankin, a professor at Pennsylvania State University, who spent the past 30 years researching what it is like to be gay or lesbian on college campuses said schools – including college campuses, still fall short when it comes to providing a safe environment for LGBT students and faculty. An NPR interview with Rankin reports that only 7 percent of colleges have resources for gay and lesbian students.

LGBT youth with “highly rejecting” families are eight times more likely to attempt suicide than those whose families accept them.  More than one-third of LGBT students have attempted suicide, according to the It Gets Better Project.

Aurora University is working to ensure that these statistics are not true for AU’s LGBT community. AU’s Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, Rebecca Smith,and AU alum Travis Winkler started a coming out group for AU students this fall. Their first meeting was Oct. 25 in the Counseling Center.

“We had five people in the group and three people that couldn’t make it. We were very happy to have that many students interested,” said Smith. “Travis tried to start an AU branch of Gay Straight Alliance, GSA, a few years ago and there were only two students that identified as LBGT, so we’re excited about the turn out,” said Smith.

Smith and Winkler’s vision for the group is to promote a safe place for students to deal with the complexities of coming out. The group will also host faculty who identify as gay or lesbian to share their coming out stories. “We are hoping more people will feel comfortable coming and that it will evolve into a group that can address deeper issues that arise in relationships,” said Smith, adding that her role in the group is to  guide the students if emotional issues come up.

The coming out group meets in the Counseling Center on 427 S. Gladstone Ave. at 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 8, Nov. 21 and Dec. 6. “Hopefully the students that feel isolated or are questioning will feel comfortable coming to the group,” said Smith. “I’m trying to make the counseling center a place students can go for resources on the topic.”

For more information, contact Rebecca Smith at 630-844-5220 or rsmith@aurora.edu