Man found freedom, inspiration in LGBTQ+ community

Leaving religious home, venturing to college meant meeting people who understood him



Brendan Brunner, Program Coordinator at the Center for Fraternity and Sorority Life at Washington State University, recalls his experiences coming out to friends and family and what it’s like to be a part of the Greek community system on Monday.

JAKOB THORINGTON, Evergreen reporter

Brendan Brunner grew up in a Catholic household and from his middle school years until he was 20, Brunner said he was closeted with few people in his life who he could talk to about his sexual orientation.

“The beginning was a little difficult with my family,” he said. “I came out with a letter because I could not find the confidence in myself to say those words out loud, let alone to their faces.”

Brunner said his sexual orientation certainly changed the dynamic in his family, as they rarely discussed it after he was open about his identity as an undergrad at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey, Washington. Brunner received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 2016 at Saint Martin’s before coming to Pullman.

Coming to Pullman to work at WSU improved that dynamic and helped him find a sense of home and community, Brunner said.

“Me being away from the family made them really realize that they love their son,” he said. “They just didn’t necessarily know how to love their queer son.”

His younger sister attended WSU when he first got a job at the university. He said this helped him identify the sense of the community in Pullman and the university.

“I found my queer group and family here and I didn’t realize how salient that was for me to have full, open and honest conversations around identity,” he said.

Although he said he found it, it was difficult for him to find and foster because eastern Washington is rural and mainly conservative.

“Resources for LGBTQ individuals are limited outside of the university,” he said. “It was a mini culture shock to see there’s no gay club in Pullman or Moscow.”

At Saint Martin’s, he confided in a few people about his sexual orientation, including Jackie Borgonia, his best friend during his undergraduate experience.

The day he came out to her was an emotional day for them both, Borgonia said.

“I was vulnerable and venting to him,” she said. “He decided to be vulnerable, too, and I didn’t say anything specific — I just kept hugging him.”

The two were roommates when Brunner came out to his family. Borgonia said the idea of him telling his parents and three sisters made him nervous, and it was a lot for him to work through.

“He had to come out to separate family members one at a time,” she said.

Brunner said that the early stages of his identity process felt like a dark and bleak tunnel with no end at times.

“I was crying myself to sleep so many nights wondering, ‘Why me?’ and how to have this conversation,” he said. “Having queer people say, ‘You do matter,’ really was defining in my coming out process.”

Now as the program coordinator at WSU’s Center for Fraternity and Sorority Life (CFSL), Brunner said he wants to help people by providing the support that he didn’t receive when he struggled with his identity.

Brunner said finding support for LGBTQ+ students seeking to join Greek organizations can be a challenge because they’re historically enforced by traditional gender roles.

One of the ways he and the CFSL helps is by providing trans-inclusive policies for Greek organizations, he said. The CFSL also asks recruits to indicate their preferred gender pronouns on their registration forms to help find organizations.

“I think we can say we’re doing all these great things but of course, we’re figuring out those next steps to continue this dialogue and drive it forward,” Brunner said.

He said he would like to see more visible resources for LGBTQ+ individuals at WSU where they can find comfort in talking to people about their gender identity or sexual orientation.

“Growing up, there was no visibility or representation that I saw in media for anyone that was like me,” he said. “The way we’ve seen media coverage and national conversation around LGBTQ identity and community today is very hopeful.”

In the future, Brunner said he’d like to pursue a career in student affairs to increase support for students that are in the shoes he was in. He leaves Pullman next month to attend the University of Portland for a master’s degree in higher education and student affairs. He will work as an assistant hall director for one of the residence halls on campus.

He said at some point through his student affairs journey, he eventually hopes to become an administrator in an LGBTQ+ center at a university setting.

This story was updated to accurately reflect the timeline in which Brunner was open about his sexual orientation as an undergrad at Saint Martin’s University and to correct a misquote of ‘LGBTQs’ to ‘LGBTQ individuals’.