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Coming clean about coming out

By Katie Litwin, COMM 260W Staff Writer

Though he attempted for years to bury his secret, even from himself, there was no
way for 17-year-old Hunter Hulbert to continue to swallow the truth that had been sitting
heavy in chest for years.
His devotion to his faith led to his belief that he could convert himself.
But, in the summer of 2012, the truth came bursting out.
As he sat with his mom on the bathroom floor facing his dad he struggled for the
words to say. However, the real speechlessness came upon his dads reaction; that he had
known his secret for months.
He already knew his son was gay.
Now, at 20 years old, Hulbert faces entirely new battles as well as opportunities as
an openly gay Penn State student. Between his coming out and his time here at Penn State,
Hulbert has seen both positive and negative responses to his sexuality. His experiences are
similar to reactions many others in the gay community face in a society where, according to
Hulbert, a stigma still exists.
Before his coming out, he had lied to his family for years, fabricating a relationship
with one of his close girl friends, Lauren, while meeting with his ex-boyfriend, Brett, in
secret.
As the emotional and mental strain grew and grew, he said his junior year was when
the climax of his struggle, and he knew he needed to reveal himself fully.
Though he had fears of coming out because of his familys strong religious ties, he
said he was amazed at their support of his realized identity.
When he came out to his mother, he recalled it was the day he received flowers from
Brett under the pseudonym Lauren as a pick-me-up as his family moved from Richmond,
Virginia to Syracuse, New York.
He said he left the room preparing himself and when he returned he caught his
moms attention.
Mom, Lauren isnt my girlfriend, Lauren is a guy. The guys name is Brett. Mom Im
gay, he said.
She shed a tear in shock at the unexpected news, but he said once that passed she
expressed her love for him and her support.
Besides his family, Hulbert said he received encouragement from mostof his friends,
but there were a few who showed their disapproval, such as unfriending him on Facebook.
A lot of people found out through hearsay, because I was scared, he said. I was
really limited in who I told.
Even now Hulbert says he is not overly vocal about his sexuality, even though he is
comfortable with it and happily in a relationship with John Petrie.
I either let them assume or ask me, he said.
It is because of this and his quiet, non-confrontational demeanor that caused him to
be shocked when he faced outward discrimination toward his sexuality at Penn State.
Hulbert said earlier this year some friends and his boyfriend, Petrie, attended a
fraternity party on campus where they were inside the house dancing amongst the crowd
when a brother suddenly approached Hulbert and his boyfriend. They were told, You guys
can leave, theres the door.
Shocked and confused, he said his boyfriend and he did not argue and left the
fraternity house immediately without even telling their friends to steer clear of
confrontation.
The next day when they told their friends of the incident Hulbert said one of his
friends stuck up for him and contacted the president of the fraternity.
A friend of Hulberts, Gopika Lakshmanan, who is a junior majoring in general
science said she was outraged when she finally found out Hulbert and Petrie were sent
home.
It was incredibly disrespectful, she said adding that when she was initially asked to
leave because she was with the group, she brushed it off. There was no reason for us to be
singled out since there was a huge amount of people.
However, Hulbert said the president arranged a face-to-face meeting with John,
apologizing to him and saying, it was not a reflection of the values of their fraternity that
we were always welcome back and something like that would never happen again.
It is experiences like this, Hulbert said, that have caused him to have a shifting
perspective on the way Penn State, and people in general, are viewing the gay community.
I think there has been a sort of Greek life vs. gay community struggle, and this sort
of bucked that stigma, he said.
He said the stigma that exists is because of a subset in the gay community who can
be offensive in the way they act and it causes the public to stereotype the whole gay
community in this way.
Despite this societal stigma that is being tackled, Hulbert said he feels much more
comfortable now being public about his sexuality with his boyfriend on campus, more so
than when he first stepped on Penn State campus two years ago.
I get encouragement from other people, he said. When we walk together on
campus I see girls smiling from afar, I dont even feel uncomfortable around guys-I never get
weird looks.
This acceptance falls in line with the Penn State LGBT resource centers observations
about how Penn State regards the LGBT community on campus.
The assistant director of the LGBT resource center, Sonya Wilmoth, said she has seen
progress in acceptance, policy changes and attendance regarding current issues since the
centers founding in 1992.
However, Wilmoth said, We have had some not-so-great feedback from students
but thank goodness it has not been much or on a grand scale.
Wilmoth attributed this negative feedback to stereotypes and misconceptions about
the LGBT community and believes with more education this will change.