WESTMINSTER — Confronted by his parents, Mike, a Western Maryland College student,admitted his homosexuality.
That was 10 years ago. The subject was never brought up again until about two weeks ago when Mike, who declined to give his last name in fear his sexual orientation could jeopardize career opportunities, decided to "come out" to his parents once and for all.
"I got tired of playing the game," the 30-year-old English major said. "I hadn't been in a relationship in seven or eight years. I have just gotten in one, and I felt it was important for me to share that part of my life. It's important for me to be open with them."
Like other members of the Lesbian and Gay Alliance of Western Maryland College, Mike participated in several events last week to mark National Coming Out Week. Events at the college ranged from speakers, such as Frank Kameny, a pioneer in the gay rights movement, to musical andtheatrical performances.
Although coming out -- letting others know about one's homosexuality -- is marked by a week on a calendar, the process is much more involved and complex, according to Mike and alliance members.
Mike's coming out included informing his sisters of his sexual orientation and being open on campus about his homosexuality. He has written editorials for the college newspaper and served on panels as a representative of the Lesbian and Gay Alliance.
"I got involved with the alliance to put (any risk) at a minimum," the Baltimore County native said. "I'm just an average Joe. I'm not out tochange anybody's lifestyle or force my way of life on them."
Rodney, a 22-year-old Westminster resident, decided to tell his parents and siblings about his homosexuality in March.
"My mom has been very supportive," said Rodney. "She's tried to understand and help me out as best she can. With my dad, it's different. He knows I'm gay but we don't talk about it."
Coming out has eased the working atmosphere at his job at a Baltimore County store, where he works as a retailmanager. Rodney declined to give his last name for fear of repercussions against his father, whom he described as a prominent member of the community.
"People would talk negatively behind my back (at work)," Rodney recalled. "Just because I'm gay doesn't mean I'm going totry and hit on other men. I'm not attracted to every man. I haven't had any problems since (coming out)."
Not coming out can be used against a closet homosexual, said Wade Fannin, a member of the alliance and a well-known gay activist on campus.
"Since you're out, there's nothing they can use against you," said Fannin, a 27-year-old psychology and religious studies major.
Coming out, though, does carry a price.
Mike, a resident assistant, for instance, has found hismessage board occasionally slandered with derogatory names.
"There is a backlash," he said. "But we've decided to be proactive about it. It's documented and reported to my supervisor every time."
Living in Carroll has not posed problems for either Mike or Rodney.
Mike said he spends little time off campus. Rodney lives in a small community within Westminster and has found the neighborhood to be tolerant.
"I've never had any problems with the community," Rodney said."People have been very supportive."
Fannin said more than half the members of the alliance are county residents and not WMC students.
Not all the members are homosexual, either.
Christine Pieper, for example, a senior majoring in chemistry, serves as alliance president. She is straight but has gotten involved because of her empathy for the gay community's struggle and the oppression members feel.
"Everybody should have the right to be what they are," the 21-year-oldsaid.
Perhaps no greater symbol of the gay community's oppressionis the pink-colored triangles members wore last week to make the public aware of the issue. The upside down triangles were once used by the Nazis to identify homosexuals.