With rainbows and red, GSA celebrates National Coming Out Day


Nina Gee

Raphael Sanche (12) and Evan Bourke (10) hand out rainbow smiley face stickers on behalf of GSA club during lunch. “As an ally of our young people who are coming along the process, it means that I get to witness firsthand the growth within our own student body as they’re moving forward and understanding themselves and embracing themselves and being more public with who they are,” GSA club adviser Spanish teacher Abel Olivas said.

by Nina Gee and Emily Tan

The applause is deafening. It lasts two, three, five, ten seconds longer than any announcement made that day. Within the sea of red lining the bleachers, students with rainbows streaked across their faces lead the applause, and Raphael Sanche (12), after delivering a heartfelt speech on his gender identity to all these students just a few moments prior, takes his seat in the Zhang Athletic Center, a content smile working its way across his nervous features.

Two months ago, Raphael walked into the Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) classroom with a will and a half-finished college essay (and also a way). Much planning, writing, supporting and soul-searching followed.

On Oct. 9, the GSA club president delivered a moving speech on his identity as a transgender male and the struggles he went through to arrive where he is now.

“I really wanted people to know sort of how I came to terms with me being transgender,” Raphael said. “I know a lot of people believe that being transgender starts when you’re very very young, like three or four, but I had already gone through puberty when I figured out I was transgender, so I really wanted to bring attention to that—that there is no [specific] age that someone realizes that they’re transgender.”

The GSA club celebrated National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11 by handing out rainbow stickers to students during lunch and asking students and teachers alike to show their support for the LGBT community by wearing red.

The request was met by overwhelming support from the Harker community: the halls of Harker were filled with students sporting red clothing and rainbow stickers.

Openly queer LGBT activists Robert Eichberg and Jean O’Leary founded National Coming Out Day in 1988 to celebrate the bravery of those who choose to come out and to raise awareness for members of the LGBT community in a localized sense.

“It’s a way for people to really honestly see each other for who [they] really are in a way that shows support for a community that’s been so marginalized in the past,” Raphael said.

GSA club adviser, Spanish teacher Abel Olivas, spoke on the significance of the celebration of this day for not only himself, but for the students in the community.

“As an ally of our young people who are coming along the process, it means that I get to witness firsthand the growth within our own student body as they’re moving forward and understanding themselves and embracing themselves and being more public with who they are,” Olivas said.

For other GSA members, National Coming Out Day holds a particularly special place in their hearts.

“A lot of my friends are LGBT, so we do become very spirited and excited on this day because it represents something that was really important in our lives,” Alissa Gao (10), who delivered last year’s coming out day speech, said. “This day just gives you the opportunity to [be yourself] even if you haven’t maybe come out to certain people.”

As for Raphael, even after coming out to his family this summer, his journey continues. Raphael has since started a testosterone treatment and intends to take more steps in the future to further his gender identity.

“My transition is going great,” he said. “Like my voice is breaking and everything and it hurts, but honestly, I feel a lot happier than I had been in the past three years of high school, and I’m honestly super excited for the future.”

National Coming Out Day, however, is a small part of a big movement. There is still much to be done, and much that is being done. India has just reversed its law criminalizing gay sex. Twenty years after his murder, homophobic hate-crime victim Matthew Shepard is to be interred in the National Cathedral in Washington on Oct. 26. Progress is being made on a worldwide scale, but that progress begins in a small community, a place like a school’s GSA.

“We are, in some ways, a very special place, and this meant years of steps of people taking risks,” Olivas said. “Even before it was such an embracing community, somebody was taking risks, somebody was speaking out, we were inviting people to show support. It was kind of like a movement toward becoming who we are. I think that the GSA’s work and, and as an example, some of the outreach we do, has been really instrumental to becoming [what] it is right now.”

GSA club week begins on Feb. 4, and LGBT Pride month begins in June.