National Coming Out Day at UH Hilo: Panel discusses how to be an ally of LGBTQ+ community

The panel made clear that conversing about the social issues facing the LGBTQ+ community raises awareness and solidifies that these issues are dynamic, real, and relevant.

By Anne Rivera.

(l-r) Chenit Ong-Flaherty, Joel Tan, Destiny Rodriguez, and Coan Yates-Tese
National Coming Out Day at UH Hilo included a panel discussion with (l-r) Chenit Ong-Flaherty, Joel Tan, Destiny Rodriguez, and Coan Yates-Tese. Courtesy photo.

The LGBTQ+ Center at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo commemorated National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11 with an event at the Campus Center Plaza. It is the nationally recognized day’s 29th anniversary.

The UH Hilo event offered an opportunity for students and others to learn about the resources, on and off campus, for LGBTQ+ and allies as well as how to become a more supportive ally. UH Hilo has made the commitment to offer support to the LGBTQ+ community through promoting a stronger, healthier, and equitable environment.

There are numerous support services and resources available around Hawai‘i Island and the campus community. In addition to the UH Hilo LGBTQ+ Center, university services include the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EEOAA). Community groups include Hawai‘i Island Pride, and Kalani Honua, a retreat center in Ka‘u.

The LGBTQ+ Center is relatively new to the UH Hilo community—it is an inclusive, safe space dedicated to empowering and fostering greater opportunities for people to thrive by providing activities and services that help create connections between students and community members. The center helps to support members and allies through more than simply facilitating and creating opportunities—it also is a key advocate for civil and human rights which benefits everyone, inside or outside the LGBTQ+ community.

(l-r) Lark Canico, Nico Van Engelen, Kalani Honua, Laura Sherwood, Joel Barraquiel Tan, Kalani Honua, and Ginger Hamiton
At the event were (l-r) student Lark Canico (communication) who is office manager at UH Hilo Disability Services; Nico Van Engelen, executive administrator, Kalani Honua; Laura Sherwood, coordinator, UH Hilo LGBTQ+ Center; Joel Barraquiel Tan, executive director, Kalani Honua; and Ginger Hamiton, director, UH Hilo Minority Access and Achievement Program. Courtesy photo.

How to be a supportive ally

At the panel presentation, four diverse and unique individuals discussed the various ways of becoming a supportive ally. Being an ally can be challenging especially when it is not clear where support is needed—but the best way, according to the panel, is to be curious and do your own research.

All the panelists had tips and reminders.

“How can you be more supportive, in general, to anyone you’re close with?” asks Joel Barraquiel Tan, current executive director at Kalani Honua and an artist, writer, performer and activist. “Get more curious and learn more.”

Destiny Rodriguez, current prevention educator and confidential advocate at the EEO/AA office at UH Hilo says, “One person is not the voice for all—not all of us are going to be allies for everyone, but being open and honest about not knowing things is best. We’re not expected to know everything but everything starts by asking questions.”

Chenit Ong-Flaherty, a new faculty member in the UH Hilo School of Nursing, was also a part of the panel. Ong-Flaherty has over 20 years experience in teaching about transgender issues and equality.

“Being an ally is also being an advocate, it’s pretty simple,” she explains. “Ask yourself what the right thing to do is. The right thing is to stand up for human rights because we are all equal.”

Coan Yates-Tese, a transgender community member, says, “Ask for a perspective and definitely do some of your own research but most importantly, treating me like a regular friend is being an ally—advocating for equality is how you become a supportive ally.”

Dialogue, listen, learn

The panel made clear that conversing about the social issues facing the LGBTQ+ community raises awareness and solidifies that these issues are dynamic, real, and relevant. It helps people realize that protecting LGBTQ rights is protecting human rights.

Each panelist had their own motivations for participating, whether it be allowing their face to be the face people think of when promoting LGBTQ+ rights, gauging their own growth as individuals within the LGBTQ community, or simply offering another perspective. It was clear at the event that each voice contributes to the conversation.

“Telling your story now is more important than ever because this is a time when the dark is really dark and the light is really light,” says Tan.

About the author of this story: Anne Rivera (senior, communication) is a public information intern in the Office of the Chancellor.

-UH Hilo Stories

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