Alumnus speaks about coming out

By Erin Kolb

Alumnus Carl Jenkins — a gay man who suffered sexual assault and intolerance during his time as a student — returned to NIU for the first time in nearly 40 years Thursday to talk about perseverance.

Jenkins graduated in 1974 and moved to Chicago to work. He returned to DeKalb to talk to the LGBTQ community about his experience coming out in the 70’s and acceptance of his sexuality.

“I had some very bad experiences here on campus,” Jenkins said. “With perseverance and the support of friends I was able to get through it.”

Jenkins attended NIU in 1970 to avoid the draft, he said. He hadn’t come out as gay yet, and said he thought he did a good job of hiding it. He made friends with people who were straight and got involved in the same organizations as they did. He said being gay wasn’t generally accepted in society back then.

“Gay people were outcasts among peers, friends and family,” Jenkins said. “It didn’t matter if you were black or white, but if you were black and homosexual, you were being ostracized.”

While rushing a fraternity in spring 1971, Jenkins was sexually assaulted and said he had to come to terms with what it meant to be a gay man.

After experiencing this trauma, Jenkins said he turned to friends for support.

“My friendships became my support group,” Jenkins said. “They allowed me to feel human again. Some of my new friends were gay, and I found acceptance in them. I was no longer ashamed, and I was once again able to hold my head high. They gave me the desire to persevere and achieve educational goals.”

Kristen Myers, coordinator of the LGBT Studies Program, which hosted the event, said she hopes students learned a valuable lesson from Jenkins.

“I think we need a sense of how much things have changed and things we need to work on,” Myers said. “Things may take different shapes over time, but the issues are still there.”

1980 alumnus Norden Gilbert was at the talk and said people are a lot more accepting now.

“In the past, the LGBT community was a very closeted world,” Gilbert said. “Now, most LGBT students are very out, and many non-LGBT students are very accepting of their LGBT peers.”