Photograph by Kathleen Huff

Monthly gatherings at the Bloomington Bagel Company offer gays and lesbians a safe, welcoming environment in which to meet new friends and share experiences. The meetings are the brainchild of Daniel Coleman, center, from the IU Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender office at IU.

With its friendly atmosphere and great food, the Bloomington Bagel Company (BBC) is a good place for anyone in Bloomington to get together and catch up with friends.

And that’s just what a group of local gays and lesbians do one Friday night each month.

Daniel Coleman, the program coordinator of IU Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) office at IU, said the BBC’s owner not only allows her place of business to be a gathering place for the monthly social hour, she provides free food and drink to anyone who comes.

The goal, said Coleman, is to bring GLBT people together and help them realize that they are not alone.

And according to Emily Cohen, an IU student and member of the Out Board, the meetings achieve that goal.

“You get to be with people that understand,” she said. “And it is a really safe place. It is easier to make friends, people are more open.”

It was Coleman’s idea to organize a meeting for all GLBT members in the community. As the GLBT office’s program coordinator, he realized there was no safe or alcohol-free place where gays and lesbians could casually meet and get to know one another.

He chose an alcohol-free setting because he didn’t want to exclude anyone.

The gathering, he said, attracts people from all different age groups. However, he hopes to reach out to the high school community, one group that has not participated in the meetings.

Each month the number of people who attends varies, said Coleman. The February meeting had about 50, he said. The March meeting had about 20, mainly IU students.

The meetings provide a network of support, said Cohen.

“You shouldn’t be uncomfortable about your sexuality,” she said during an interview at the March meeting. “And here you don’t have to be.”

Thomas Reichherzer agreed.

“Events like this bring people together,” he said. “You realize that there are others like you.”

The meetings are held mainly for socializing reasons. Few attendees discuss political and social issues. Some may announce upoming events involving GLBT people, but that’s about it.

When asked if people have had a problem with discrimination or acceptance, those at the March meeting offered a number of responses.

Reichherzer said he had a friend who lost his teaching job and was kicked out of his home in another city because of his sexual orientation. He likes Bloomington because there are rules against such discrimination.

Paul, an IU student, said he was harassed his freshman year at IU. “People scratched ‘faggot’ on my door,” he said.

Paul believes that many IU students have been isolated and therefore do not understand homosexuality. People are often afraid of things they do not understand.

Even some of their straight friends have a difficult time understanding, Cohen said. Her friends occasionally complain that all she talks about is gay issues or gay movies, etc., she said. This frustrates her, she said, because if they were to think about it, all they talk about are straight things.

Cohen and others at the meeting said they wish there were more straight allies for the GLBT community.

In high school Cohen questioned her sexuality, but she refused to let herself really think like that. She just brushed the notion aside.

She said the people she knew were all straight, and she did not really think that she might not be until college.

When she got to IU, she began to hang out with other gays and lesbians, which allowed her to safely question her sexuality. Looking back on high school, she realizes why she refused to believe she could be queer.

In high school Cohen was an active straight ally, and that later became one of the reasons it took her so long to come out. She believes there “are not enough straight allies out there,” and she did not want GLBT people to lose her straight support.

“These are not gay issues, these are straight issues,” said Cohen.

When someone is being disrespected, judged and discriminated against, it should become a human issue, Cohen and others believe. It concerns everyone and people should stand up against such injustice.

GLBT members look forward to the monthly meetings and the friendly and open atmosphere, which helps members to strengthen their friendships and to gain support from one another.

Kathleen Huff can be reached at .