Finding her pride: One year after coming out, student shares how it changed her
One year ago, Delany Lemke announced to everyone at Central Michigan University that she is a lesbian when she appeared for a story that was published on the Oct. 8, 2014 front page of Central Michigan Life.
When I asked Delany if she wanted to tell her "coming out story" in an story I was working on, she didn’t hesitate. When she first told me her story, I realized she wasn't fully out – many of her friends and family members didn't she is a lesbian.
Delany wanted them to know.
She was planning to come out that week, but I don't think either of us expected things to unfold like they did.
One year later, I caught up with Delany to talk about an experience like no other – one that she told me changed her life, and one I know changed me as a journalist.
Q: Let's go back to the day I asked you to tell your story. What was your reaction to that?
DELANY: "I had been wanting to come out for a while because I was tired of skirting around it. When I came to college, it felt like a fresh start. I didn't think (the story) would get nearly as big as it did--I thought it was just going to be a little story in the paper. I wasn't nervous until you said it was going to be on the front page."
Delany told me most of her friends knew she is a lesbian. She came out to her immediate family, but had not yet told her other relatives. In my original CM Life story, Delany told readers that she started being interested in women, and then fell really hard for one particular woman. She knew then it would be something she would need to tell her family about.
One year ago, Delany Lemke told everyone at Central Michigan University that she's a lesbian. Each year, thousands of people in the LGBTQ community come out, but Delany's experience was quite different. One year later, I caught up with her to talk about an experience like no other.
Her mom was concerned that people in her hometown would look at Delany differently. I'm not a mom, but I can understand the need to protect someone from a society that can sometimes be extremely harsh.
When she told her mom she was going to share her story in CM Life, it was another hesitant moment. The night before the story was published, I worked on the first sentence for what seemed like hours. I called Delany after I thought I had something good. It was a bold statement. I was following the brave and badass woman's example.
After speaking with her I understood she is a straightforward and honest person. But I was nervous as hell when I shared my completed story with her.
The first paragraph read, "By the time you have finished reading this sentence, you and the rest of Central Michigan University will know Delany Lemke is a lesbian."
Q: What was going through your head when I read you the first sentence of the story?
DELANY: "I was at 'Coming Out at Kaya' and you called, so I walked outside. (The sentence) was so in-your-face. I was so freaked out that I was revealing this part of my life to so many people. I was really nervous, but I felt like, 'We've gone this far, let's do it.'”
Q: What happened the next day when you saw the paper? What was your reaction?
DELANY: "I was walking to a lecture and I saw my face everywhere. It was so weird--I was shaking when I picked it up. I took it into class and I was reading it. I was like, 'OK, this is real.' I was on my phone for the beginning of the lecture because (texts) started pouring in. I remember sitting there and tearing up because it was so overwhelming. It wasn't bad, it was just a lot to take in sitting around a hundred other people in a quiet classroom."
Q: What kinds of reactions did you get on social media that day?
DELANY: "The majority was really supportive. There were a lot of reactions from my family members who said, 'We're proud of you and we still accept you.' They were glad I did it. Friends were commenting who said it was so cool.
“The worst (comments) were the 'nobody cares' ones. There were a lot of those. Those got a lot of backlash from my friends who were supporting me. Actually, my (current) girlfriend was defending me back then before we were dating. It meant a lot to me to see her respond. She defended me, along with a couple of her friends. It was really nice knowing I had this support group who I just met, who were behind me 100 percent."
Coming out is something that takes courage. Coming out so publicly is an entirely different experience. I didn't want Delany to have a negative experience because she put so much of herself out there.
I took a peek at Delany's Facebook account that day. There were several shared posts from friends praising her bravery. One particular post caught my eye. When I saw it, I cried, and Delany told me she did too. Her mom posted a picture of a rainbow flag that read, "I'm proud of my LGBTQ child."
Q: Your mom posted something on your Facebook wall that day. Do you remember that?
DELANY: "I remember crying over that one. Once (the story) started getting around our hometown, (my mom) was like, 'Alright, I'm in.' When marriage equality was passed, she made her profile picture a rainbow. She'll make posts about LGBTQ issues sometimes. I'm so lucky to have parents and family that support me, because I know there's a lot of people who don't."
One year later, Delany is the person she has been since I met her — She's smart, witty and always smiling. She is an honor student, a creative writer, an activist for women and the LGBTQ+ community.
On that day, when she shared her truth with the CMU community, she knew she was not alone. In fact, her girlfriend asked her out on a date that day. The two are still together.
The biggest, obvious difference between her a year ago and her today: She is no longer hiding who she is.
Q: How has coming out affected your life?
DELANY: "I'm more open now. I can talk about these issues. I can bring my girlfriend to family things--I don't have to hide. It's liberating. People still come up to me and say, 'Hey, you were on the cover of CM Life for Coming Out Week; that was really cool.' It's inspired me to be more of a voice.
People are listening for any kind of representation and support, and I'm glad I could be that for someone. I don't have to skirt around that part of my identity anymore. But it also helped other people. It's overwhelming in a good way--the impact my story had on people."