Suffolk celebrates National Coming out day with Mayor of Cambridge

Article By: Alex Sessa

Cambridge Mayor, Denise Simmons, America’s first openly lesbian, African American mayor spoke at Suffolk on Thursday in honor of National Coming Out Day.

“This is a place that welcomes everyone,” said Suffolk President David Sargent, who presented the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered) award to Dr. Wilma Busse, director of the University counseling center, before introducing Mayor Simmons.

Simmons, a lifelong resident of Cambridge, opened her speech with a reminiscence of her own college days in the 1960s and 70s.  “We wanted to break down barriers,” said Simmons, who didn’t divulge her age, but categorized herself as being part of the “over-50 group.”

Though Simmons said she never faced discrimination growing up in Cambridge, she did when she visited her grandmother in Georgia and was forced to use a bathroom labeled “colored.”

Simmons admitted a lot of progress has been made since then, but said there is still a lot of work to be achieved.  “Sitting on the sidelines means someone else makes the rules,” said Simmons.

Fighting for equality is an arduous task, said Simmons but “what was once thought impossible is becoming possible.”

Simmons said she is also proud to be the mayor in the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. Last year she married her partner of seven years, which she describes as a tremendous milestone in her life.

Through her speech, Mayor Simmons conveyed that “coming out” is not so much about being gay as it defining oneself – not allowing society to mold his or her personality.

“Ms. Simmons represents someone who has overcome a lot of odds,” said Craig Cullinane, Director of Diversity Services. “She’s lived life the way she wanted to.” According to Cullinane, coming out is inspiring not only because of the bravery required, but also because requires society to recognize an individual in a new way.

In an interview with The Journal after her speech, Mayor Simmons said the she is blessed to have such a supportive family.  While her father died never knowing her sexual orientation, Simmons said her mother was more than supportive, and that her children have been a tremendous contribution to her personal life and are proud to have two moms.

Simmons stressed that she is a person just like everyone else. “I brush my teeth every morning,” said Simmons, referring to how she answers the question, “What is it like to be gay?”

According to Simmons, coming out is a process that takes time.  “It’s not like you send out invitations to your friends that say ‘I’m gay.’  It’s different for everyone.”