Rainbow colors flooded the Memorial Quad Tuesday as students from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community and their allies gathered beneath an arch of colorful balloons to celebrate National Coming Out Day — affirming that they are open with their sexual identity and are committed to defending the rights of everyone on campus to do the same.

“It gives students a place to feel safe knowing that there are others who identify like they do,” Ryan Riddick, a staff member of the student-run Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Queer Alliance@@http://leadership.uoregon.edu/get_involved/student_groups/456@@ said to the importance of commemorating the day. “It shows (students) that this campus values their identity and it is a safe space for people to come out if they choose to today.”

This year marks the 24th anniversary of the event, which began on Oct. 11, 1987, with the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.@@http://www.lansingcitypulse.com/lansing/article-6435-msu-celebrates-lgbt-awareness.html@@ Half a million people participated in that march, the second nation-wide event of its kind and one that sparked similar activism across the country.

At the University, the various LGBTQA programs on campus organized events throughout the week. On Tuesday, students were invited to tie-dye, have their pictures taken “coming out” of a fake closet door set up on the Memorial Quad and make their mark on a handprint mural of LGBTQ students and their allies. More events are to come this week as well; a concert will be held Wednesday and this Friday event organizers will put on a “Queer Dance” to cap off the week.

Similar gestures to publicly recognize the LGBTQ community were made by universities around the country.

At Portland State University, for example, event organizers asked volunteers to share their coming out stories on camera. And at the University of Michigan, LGBTQ groups affirmed their presence on campus by painting a rainbow on a famous university monument.

“It reminds people that LGBTQ faculty, staff and students are on campus,” University Campus Center director Daniel Maxwell said@@http://life.iupui.edu/directory/maxwelld.html@@, explaining that because LGBTQ students and staff are not physically identifiable, they are often not considered in evaluating a campus’ overall diversity. National Coming Out Day, Maxwell said, is a way to “visibly put their presence out there.”

At the University, powerful members of the administration, including University President Richard Lariviere, identified themselves as allies. According to Maure Smith, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Education and Support Services, assistant director this sends an even stronger message.

“It says our campus is a safe space to come out,” Smith said.@@http://lgbt.uoregon.edu/Home/tabid/38/ctl/Details/Mid/514/ItemID/108/Default.aspx?ContainerSrc=[G]Containers/_default/No+Container&SkinSrc=[G]Skins/uolgbt/[email protected]@ “It says there is a real institutional commitment to social change. More people are coming out, and more are coming out younger.”

Apart from this week’s celebrations, the University has demonstrated an ongoing commitment to advocating for the LGBTQ community, Smith said. He noted that the Campus Climax Index, a national assessment of LGBTQ environments on college campuses, ranks the University as one of the most LGBTQ-friendly campuses in the nation.

“We don’t just want to settle for ‘it’s pretty good,’” said Ky Kubitz, ASUO gender and sexual diversity advocate,@@http://asuo.uoregon.edu/executive.php?a=12@@ explaining that all LGBTQ programs are continually striving to advocate for LGBTQ issues. “Work is always being done.”

Patty Smith, a University junior who came out for the first time last year, appreciates the work that these groups do, and feels that the annual event sends a powerful message.

“Even if someone is scared to come out, just to know that there are this many people forming a community — that there is a safe place for them — is amazing,” Smith said. “This is beautiful.”

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