Faculty from Pacific Collegiate School at last year's National Coming Out Day event, with the Rainbow Door. Top row, left to right: Lynn McCune, Michael Lysaght, Andrea Roth; middle: Lauren Friend; front: Emily Bolton.
“If you hear about American history, you don’t hear about [people like] Alan Turing—who many considered to be at the forefront of the modern computer age—being gay,” explains Stuart Rossenstein. “I think it’s important for students to learn about the community we have.”
Putting his money where his mouth is, Rossenstein has been chair of the Queer Youth Task Force of Santa Cruz (QYTF) for the past 13 years. During that time, the QYTF—along with several community partners—has been reaching out to queer young people in Santa Cruz County, trying to do about 8,000 things at once.
“The needs of LGBT youth are wide ranging and of course it varies from youth to youth,” says Rossenstein. “So we work with the community and with their families.”
One of the QYTF’s pet projects is National Coming Out Day, which takes place this Friday, Oct. 11, marking its 25th anniversary. Founded in 1988 to commemorate the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights a year earlier, National Coming Out Day isn’t just about standing up and shouting “I’m gay!” to a room full of unsuspecting co-workers—although that is always cool. It’s also a time for gay and straight people alike to come out in support of LGBT rights.
“I think what youth are looking for is to go to school, not be bullied and just be who they are,” Rossenstein states. “So Coming Out Day is a very symbolic day for a wide range of students.”
One of the most popular traditions locally is the Rainbow Door. In 2011, Rossenstein noticed Home Depot had a float in the local Pride Parade, so he contacted the company about any possible donations they could spare. The result is a freestanding door, painted black on one side and rainbow on the other that students and teachers can walk-through to “come out” in support of equality for all.
“When you have the principal or the star athlete coming out as gay or as straight allies, it sends a very powerful message to closeted LGBT kids, that there’s support,” explains Rossenstein.
Emily Bolton, one of the Gay/Straight Alliance advisors at Pacific Collegiate School and also a founding member of Strange, a community-wide Gay/Straight Alliance, agrees.
“Everyone knows kids can be mean, especially at the junior high and high school levels,” she says. “And while we [Santa Cruz] are very accepting on many levels, there’s still work to be done to stop bullying and hate speech.”