THE COMING OUT PROJECT: I Run a Gay-Straight Alliance

Executive Director of PhillyGayCalendar


I run a gay-straight alliance at a community college.

This isn’t like an episode of Glee, I assure you.  There are days when I find the work to be amazingly satisfying, heartbreaking, and frustrating all at once.  There are days when I ask myself, “Why the hell am I doing this?”

But then, I realize, if I don’t, who will?

The group’s demographics is as wide as the acronym “LGBTQ,” and, trust me, there is a person who fits into every single letter: there are young gay men with boyfriends who go to equality rallies at the state capital, lesbian women with partners at home, people who can’t even bring themselves to say the word “gay” (even though, clearly, they are).  We have a lot of young females, some of which refuse to identify their sexualities, some of which staunchly refer to themselves as queer.  I used to find the word as a bit of a bugbear, but, trust me, it’s not only a legitimate identifier, but one that, should the community “banish,” would cause great emotional harm to some of these young people.  To those who want to wax poetic about how “queer” isn’t needed in our lexicon, I would invite you to step into my shoes for a day and try to argue that notion to the 20-something who can’t seem to get a grip on his sexuality and who finds solace in the word.

We’ve laughed.  We’ve cried, a lot (especially last year).  I’ve seen a transformation in the group—in some cases, it is for the better.  In other cases, it is for the worse.

A young woman approached me privately after her first alliance meeting.  She was twirling her hair and looking at the ceiling.

“This is all private, right?  Like, you don’t go identifying people to the college, right?”


“Good.  ‘Cuz my family would kill me if they knew I was coming to these meetings.”

As a relatively confident gay man in my thirties, I find these types of interactions to be disheartening.  We tend to forget that, despite the outward progress that we’ve made, the notion of “coming out” for many people is polarizing and torturous.  I can always see students peeking in our meeting room, and then peeking out in the hallway, and then peeking in again, trying to determine if they should “walk in,” if they should dare take the plunge into “gay world,” I guess.  I tell the group that what we discuss in the club stays IN the club, with one exception: if anyone mentions anything about hurting themselves, then I have to report it.  I’ve had to report a lot…

It’s funny how my colleagues see me, too; I’ve never hid my sexuality, and I’ve often celebrated it.  However, ever since it became public knowledge that I was advising the group, I’ve seen a change in how my co-workers view me.  In many instances, I’ve been utterly fortunate, and in some cases, I’ve been pleasantly surprised: several individuals who I would have never guessed were “allies” have not only shown their support, but have vocalized it to.  In other instances, I’ve seen the opposite: I’ve had staff try to “move” some of the alliance events into more private areas, as if we are some sort of plague that might infect the campus.  Lucky for me, there has been a definitive change of climate that would undoubtedly call such nonsense homophobic.

During one meeting, a young student blurted out, “Mr. B, you’re the only gay worker on this campus.”  That, of course, is not true.  We laughed at this, at first, but then, as if the group could read my mind, it got quiet.  We realized something that day: we’ve created some community.

There are times when the stories are hard to bare: abusive boyfriends.  Downright evil (and I use that word deliberately) relatives who have caused such grief.  Rejection.  Identity.  I’ve relied on the ear of a friend or two after some meetings.

But then…there’s hope.  An engagement.  A student transferring to a college out of state to start anew.  A letter of acceptance into a selective-admissions program.  New love.  Friends.

It’s the juxtaposition of those moments that has made me realize that this isn’t just service to my workplace or my community.  In a sense, it’s service to myself.  And for that, I’m forever grateful.

Bryan Buttler is PhillyGayCalendar's editor.  An educator and writer, Bryan lives in Center City Philadelphia.  He can be reached at, or via his Facebook page.

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