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Project VIDA celebrates National Coming Out Day
by Vern Hester
2018-10-17

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On Oct. 11, Project VIDA, in partnership with the Chicago Department of Public Health, presented an event marking National Coming Out Day at the Logan Theater. The event featured several curated speakers who shared their coming-out stories, and there was an open-floor segment during which guests could share their experiences.

Chicago Board of Public Health LGBTQ liaison Antonio King started the evening by commenting on the success of 2017's Coming Out Day event Affinity Community Services co-sponsored at 2850 S. Wabash St. King said that he wanted to come to the Northwest Side of town and meet with an entirely different part of the LGBTQ community because "we're all over—we're multicultural and multidimensional, and our cultures [on the North and South sides of Chicago] are different." Project VIDA CEO Jerome Montgomery thanked everyone in attendance and reminded guests that the group has been serving the African-American and Latinx communities for 26 years.

For the curated segment, host Karari Olvera Orozco introduced activist Alexis Martinez, who spoke about coming out in the '70s while a member of a street gang. When asked, "What would you tell your younger self now?," Martinez said, "Never let anyone tell you to wait. Be who you are now. ... There's always going to be someone who has a problem with you, whether your cisgendered, straight, gay, Black or white." Cruz Rodriguez spoke about the difficulty he faced in not only coming out to his mother, but in navigating his Muslim faith and gaining acceptance. Model Megan Mia spoke about overcoming her biggest hurdle: herself.

Later, activist/author Reyna Ortiz told a humorous story about her coming out to her mother. When asked what advice she would give her younger self, she said, "I had to face the biggest problem for trans people: We are living in a social construct that is not made for us."

Project VIDA's Debby Rijos closed the evening by sharing her own coming-out, which was spurred by her Uncle Johnny, who came home to Chicago to be with family during the last months of his life in the '80s. She decided to come out at the time of his death ( from AIDS )—as well as support the LGBTQ community and become active in it.


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