Eastern Washington 'comes out' for LGBTQ community

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TRI-CITIES, Wash. (KVEW-TV) – Millions of Americans celebrated who they are Tuesday for National Coming Out Day, including Spencer Holle of Kennewick.

The Columbia Basin College sophomore remembers the date as if it was yesterday.

“January 14, 2014,” recites Holle.

That’s when he came out as gay to his religious friends and family during high school.

“I sent out an embarrassing letter to my parents,” laughs Holle. “And I really hope they didn't hold onto it!”

Holle says the experience was tough.

“[I was] honestly terrified at how many friends I would lose,” remembers Holle. “I received about two hate messages.”

However, Spencer still counts himself lucky, saying he has received overwhelming support from his loved ones.

He and his Multicultural Communications classmates attended a special resource fair at CBC Tuesday to learn more about issues facing LGBTQ people.

“I've actually had a few students today thank me for putting this on,” says Leah Gillette-Fox with CBC’s Diversity Committee. “They know that the administration cares for them.”

This caring goes a long way.

According to the Benton-Franklin Youth Suicide Prevention program, LGBTQ youth are five times more at risk for suicide because of discrimination, bullying and feeling alone.

Community groups that turned out to CBC’s National Coming Out Day resource fair want to change that.

They include crisis centers, LGBTQ family groups, and inclusive religious groups, such as the Shalom United Church of Christ in Richland.

“We welcome anyone no matter who you are or where you're at in life's journey,” says church member Joe Ochoa, who also identifies as gay.

This sentiment is echoed by CBC.

“[LGBTQ people] have the same issues that we have, so how can we incorporate them to be a part of our community?” says Gillette-Fox. “When everyone has a voice at the table, our table can be so much richer.

Holle agrees, emphasizing such inclusiveness positively impacts everyone, including those outside the LGBTQ community.

“I was terrified and I don't think anybody should have to live that way,” says Holle. “That's why this visibility is important to me…LGBT people go through struggles each and every day.”