Have you ever felt victimized or judged because you are “different” from everyone around you? “Different” is such an ambiguous term, but in this case I am talking about being from somewhere else, not looking the same as others, having diverse cultures, or even having strong feelings towards the same gender. There are many organizations in our country that deal with race, gender, culture, and physical differences where people can get together and share stories so they can help one another feel more comfortable about themselves.
The GSA club meets every Thursday at seven PM in the top floor of the Student Center. The meetings are open to anyone and are a great way to get to know peers and become informed of the everyday struggles students face. We wanted to get a first hand feel of what goes on in a GSA meeting here at the University of Kentucky so we sat in on a meeting one Thursday night. When we first walked into the room it was just a classroom with the chairs and desk pushed out of the way so we could all form a circle on the ground. I was shocked to see how many people actually came to these meetings because I thought it was a smaller organization, but there were roughly 30 people there. The very first thing we did when we got there was go around in the circle and everyone had to say their name and what the best part of their week so far was. This broke the ice for most of the people because then we got into a real topic of what exactly is gender and why is it such a big issue in today’s society? We focused on this topic for about an hour and people would raise their hand when they had a comment to add or their own personal story to tell. It was quite interesting to hear what some of the students’ stories were because they were so confident in telling people private things when they just didn’t know them that well. For the majority of the meeting we discussed issues such as the Gender vs. Sex debate and Masculinity and Femininity. Each student would wait their turn patiently to comment or add on to another’s thoughts and were given time to share personal stories or experiences that complement the topic. Just from attending one meeting you could feel the closeness of the group and how they were all open to others views and opinions. The instructors emphasized on giving definitions of all terms used such as “third gender.” Having information sessions available to students and faculty such as these meetings are very useful tools in communicating to students how little most people really know about the LGBT community and what it means to consider yourself lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.
Most people probably would not guess that there are actually a small portion of people who come to the GSA meetings and are in charge of OUTsource that are 100% straight. I thought it would be interesting to interview Nancy Pickle, who is vice president of GSA and helps out with events for OUTsource and she is straight. I asked Nancy why she came to OUTsource in the beginning and she said, “My cousin was being judged by her family because she came out and told them she was gay and they were not happy at all about it. I saw her being excluded a little from the family and then it all became a mess and a big family feud broke out. I started to take her in and make her feel better and became interested in helping people who had this same issue, so I walked into OUTsource because my leader for orientation told me about it.”
The Gay Straight Alliance does a great job trying to get other students involved with the LGBT community around campus. Every year they put on different events that revolve around certain topics they have been talking about at the time. For example, they have Transgender Rememberance Day where they stood outside the Student Center and read things from books and articles about trangender stories. They had a little quiet time in order to remember the transgenders who have died in the past because they were killed or harrassed so much they took their own lives for being “different”. Another popular event they have on campus is “Coming-Out Day” where they have signs up all over and people holding posters just outside the student center trying to get the UK body informed on LGBT issues. Some more events are “Fit For Equality”, “Gay Love”, and “Human Right Campaign.” So do not be surprised if you see a member of the GSA out in front of the student center holding posters or yelling out things because they are very strong believers of the LGBT community and want others to be more educated on the issue.
The LGBT community is all over the world whether people like it or not. It is a huge part of Lexington because the gay/lesbian/bisexual community has been increasing rapidly there. Lexington, Kentucky is a great place to come if you are gay or lesbian because they are known accept people easily down here no matter what sexual preference you are. There are a huge number of gay organizations to help people who need support and there are a ton of gay bars where gays/lesbians/bisexuals can meet people and make life-long friends. Surprisingly to me, I have met a plethora of gay/lesbians down at the University of Kentucky compared to where I am originally from, Independence, Kentucky. I have heard some of my friends say they love it in Lexington because where they came from was not so friendly on the gay/lesbian/bisexual idea, but it is accepted here. They love to go out on weekends to one of the gay bars and either look for someone they can see themselves with or just hang out with their friends. The bars and streets are full of gay/lesbian/bisexual people, but no one can really tell because most of them look exactly like us unless they are trying to prove a point and dress way out of characteristic.Many students who attend the University of Kentucky do not even know we have the GSA organization held at the student center for students who are confused with their feelings or having problems coming out about how they feel because they are scared other students will judge them. This is a great program to have on campus because there are a lot of gays/lesbians/bisexuals that attend the University of Kentucky and the school is pretty good at informing our students about these people and letting them get to know more of the history behind the organization. I am sure the GSA and OUTsource program have helped prevent many students from picking on others who have a different preference of sexuality because they just don’t care if a guy likes a guy or a girl likes a girl, they are still normal people.
It is always important to have a safe learning environment for students to be able to broaden their education and grow as individuals. A hostile learning environment could lead to students missing individual classes or even many whole days of school due to feeling unsafe and at risk. Also having a negative campus climate can often give permission to students, peers, and faculty, to abuse others orally and physically based on gender identity or sexual preference (Wells, Wisneski, Kane 307-328). A recent development in the safety of the LGBT community around The University of Kentucky’s campus is the LGBT Task Force. Their mission is to work with the Human Rights Campaign Foundation to inspire and engage campus in conversation of LGBT equality (Hairston, Johnson). Even having the presence of organizations such as the Task Force of a GSA club can cut down on the discrimination around campus. To start an organization on campus there must be a vast amount of support behind it to back it up. After the club or organization is started the original members often work on educating campus of what their purpose is and look to take on new members. As the people become more educated they also become more accepting the amount of violence around campus decreases immensely. The presence of an organization similar to GSA or Task Force not only changes the whole climate of the campus but also relieves students’ emotional distress therefore making it beneficial to not only the whole community but each individual as well.