Today is the 29th National Coming Out Day. In honor of this year’s National Coming Out Day, students Kristen Walker and Malik Pridgeon, along with UM Pride Network and Queer People of Color, are creating a video project to shed light on the challenges faced by people of color in the LGBTQ community.
QPOC is a new organization on campus, started in March by Walker and Pridgeon with the guidance of Jaime Cantrell, a visiting assistant professor of English and faculty affiliate of the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies. Walker also holds a new position within UM Pride Network as minority outreach chair.
Both the new position and new organization came into existence around the same time, and Walker said she felt they were necessary.
“(UM Pride) is a very welcoming space, but it’s a very white space,” Walker, a senior English major, said. “I saw a need for more representation.”
Walker said she has seen more people of color come to UM Pride Network’s meetings and show interest in QPOC. She and Pridgeon said their video project, titled “Hear Me Out,” has the potential to give minority LGBTQ students a voice.
“It’s all about visibility. Every effort we make is to show people we’re here (and) we have voices. That’s why this project is very near and dear to me,” Walker said. “Hear me out. Hear what I’m saying to you. Hopefully, after it’s done, you understand me better.”
Walker said arriving at this mindset was not easy and coming out can be a challenging task for many in the LGBTQ community, especially people of color. Both Walker and Pridgeon faced criticism from their families after coming out.
“When I first came out, I was outed by my parents (and) my sister. My parents are struggling with me being so visible,” Pridgeon, a senior public policy and philosophy double major, said. “Even though they would want me to be gay and not be out about it, this project is important. It might not happen overnight, but I’m changing the heart and mind of someone.”
Walker’s coming out story is different. She came out around this time last year.
“I recently came out after, like, 10 years of not being out about my sexuality. It was a very big challenge but very liberating. Once I finally did, it was a big part of me to discover,” Walker said.
Pridgeon and Walker, who serve as QPOC executive director and deputy director, respectively, have interviewed eight students so far, and they have at least three more interviews planned. Neither Walker nor Pridgeon expected “Hear Me Out” to get as much interest as it has so far.
“I was nervous. It’s hard to be out and to be a person of color. There’s a lot of stigma around being out. I still don’t know how big this could get, because there are a lot of people who are afraid,” Pridgeon said. “Black culture is not very open to gay people.”
Walker said there is still hesitance and fear among people of color to join the project, and she is mindful of how she conducts interviews and presents the project.
“I’ve also seen a lot of bravery,” Walker said. “You can tell people are nervous, but you can tell it’s a weight-lifting and learning experience for them, as well.”
Pridgeon and Walker said “Hear Me Out” is about redefining the narrative surrounding LGBTQ communities of color.
“This is about being who we are supposed to be — being out, being visible and telling our truth,” Pridgeon said.
Walker said she hopes “Hear Me Out” plants a seed in the community to foster empathy and help people better understand LGBTQ people of color.
“It was a very intimate project for me at first. We don’t know how big it’s going to get. I’d be ready to take it on,” Walker said.
Audio and video from “Hear Me Out” will be on display from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday, National Coming Out Day, at the Union at UM Pride Network’s table, and it will be premiered at UM Pride Network’s Tuesday meeting.