Tara Ritchie saw the flyer for National Coming Out Day posted in the hallway and made a decision: It was time to meld two different parts of her life into one.
Ritchie 58, an administrative assistant for the School of Health Sciences & Wellness who is also a student in psychology, saw that Students Alliance for Equality SAFE were hosting a Circle of Sharing for (NCOD) and she knew she wanted to check it out. In fact, she wanted to come out: Some people knew, especially her close friends and family, but only a few, and certainly no one from work. She’d always kept her personal and business life separate. It was now time to bring them together so she could live what she calls her best life.
National Coming Out Day is an annual LGBTQ+ awareness day, observed on Oct. 11, that began in 1987 because of the belief that homophobia thrives in an atmosphere of silence and ignorance, and that once people know that they have loved ones who are lesbian or gay, they are less likely to maintain homophobic views.
She had a little bit of anxiety leading up to the event, but that happens to her a lot. Expectation anxiety is what she calls it. The kind you might feel before a dentist appointment or a first date.
Ritchie realized she was a lesbian when she was 14. When she was in high school, in the 70s, things were different. Sex was never discussed, and being gay was not accepted. She understood what it was to be gay. She had an older sister who had come out as lesbian to their mother: Their mother rejected her.
Ritchie had a male friend who was gay, and they would go to San Francisco together so they could be themselves. She kept her secret safe and to her small circle of friends.
She believed she needed to live a normal life, so Ritchie married four times. She got divorced four times. Coming from the marriages were four children and 16 grandchildren and a desire to be true to herself. She said she tries not to live with regrets.
Ritchie told her children earlier that she was gay. Two of her daughters have known for years and are happy she’s finally accepting it and coming out. Her other daughter accepts it, but they don’t talk about it at this point. Her son had her the most concerned, but he recently came to her and told her he still thinks she’s the best mom in the world.
Once she was there and saw not only students but staff members, it made her feel a little more relaxed. Ritchie had intended on coming out at the event but she had no idea how she would do it, or that she actually would.“It just happened because the environment was safe,” she said.
Ritchie was nervous speaking at the meeting and started tearing up at first. Once it was finally out there, she left the meeting feeling really well, almost like a weight had been lifted. She had a smile on her face.
“I’m still the same person that you deal with everyday,” Ritchie said. “I still do the same things, I still like the same things, still opinionated about the same things it’s who I choose to spend my time with as a one on one partnership that’s just different than you, and maybe the same as you.”
Ritchie’s life has changed so drastically so many times, she lives in the moment. She doesn’t know how coming out at work will change anything.
“I take it simply,” she said. “I want to excel in my career, complete my degree, travel as much as I can, and to live a full and content life filled with family and friends.”
She has a piece of advice for others: ”Speak your truth, live your best life.”