It took Lars Avis awhile to come to terms with his true self. And once he decided to come out and identify himself, he knew tough conversations loomed with friends and family.
“A few of my friends had come out as transgender,” Avis said. “It made me feel more comfortable coming out. I was like, ‘Oh, they are out and they are happy and doing well. That means I can too.’”
Now 23 years old, Avis is an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community and serves as a role model for those who are seeking to come out as well.
Avis braved the cold last Friday with members of the student group ISU Pride, who set up a tent on the Quad. They were there to provide information and offer encouragement to students on the 31st annual National Coming Out Day, which is part of the University’s Queertober festivities.
ISU Pride members handed out stickers, flags, and brochures and offered a safe place for students to initiate conversations about their own coming out stories.
“Pride is an amazing community of folks who are always willing to support our LGBTQ+ siblings, and we know resources on campus and where to go,” ISU Pride President Emily Patterson said. “So folks can always come to us if they need anything or need help finding places.”
Queer Ed Birds, a newer organization specifically geared toward LGBTQ+ education majors, tabled with ISU Pride for the event.
Patterson acknowledged that there’s always the potential for negative emotional ramifications with choosing to come out. “You don’t owe anybody your identity. You don’t owe anybody information about you. If you are coming out, that should only be because you feel comfortable and you feel safe to do so.”
Illinois State has established the LGBTQ+ Student Support Fund that provides emergency grants for students who lose the financial support of their family due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
On Friday, a group called Free Mom Hugs joined ISU Pride on the Quad to offer comfort to students from an adult perspective.
“It’s basically just being that support for someone going through the transition or taking on that comfort to stand out and say, ‘Yes, I am this,’” group volunteer Elizabeth Robertson said. “Giving them that love and support to say that you are doing a great thing and standing up for what you believe in.”
Avis finds comfort in living the life he believes he was meant to live. He had a strong support system and sought to improve conversations with people around him who had a tougher time with the revelation.
Even in an ever-changing national conversation, he encourages students and faculty to persevere and take advantage of the available resources.
“We don’t always live a life where we can be ignorant to politics,” Avis said. “Just our very existence is seen as very political. But I’m just being myself. So just keep going. It will get better.”