Have you ever been in the situation where your identity makes you the automatic authority on all things related to that facet of yourself? It’s something I experience fairly often at school, as the resident openly queer queer. I’m certainly not the only one there, but the on-campus presence is small enough that I am often the most vocally (and arguably radically in certain aspects) queer-identified individual present. Between that and a belief in enacting the change I want to see in the world, this means that I can’t let myself bitch about the lack of infrastructure for support of queer people and let it go at that. I’ve got to do something about it.
And it’s not because my school is not accepting and welcoming; that is far from the case. There are more non-gendered single occupancy bathrooms on campus than you can shake a stick at — and if you think this is unrelated, just consider what it’s like to go into a public bathroom as a transgendered person in fear of assault from people policing your gender when all you want to do is pee in peace. The university, while being Catholic, is also progressive, rooted in social justice, dialogue and active acceptance of a diversity of perspectives.
The problem is that none of this is explicitly stated where queer people are concerned. There exists support for students with disabilities, veterans, returning students, older students — there is a food pantry, a prior learning program, ESL integration, and the list goes on — but nothing for queer students. Nothing.
Now, this is not unusual for a university of this size, especially considering that it is a non-residential private university with religious roots whose primary student population is over the age of thirty and often resides at distance. In fact, one of the ways in which the school I go to is unique is that it does not bar or place restrictions on an LGBTQ Alliance. There is, in fact, an officially recognized – but presently inactive – LGBTQ Alliance in existence at the school. So the difficulty lies more in the fact that not enough students have consistently voiced a need for actively queer-accepting support and resources or that perhaps no one has assembled a tool kit of existing community resources and made them available to the student population at large.
In early October, I showed up to the first student governance meeting. While I’m sure that there were other queer-identified people there, I was the most vocal about making sure queer perspectives were included. By virtue of that fact, I became the Resident Queer Activist almost by default. I’ve spent the intervening time between now and then looking at the areas that the university could offer support and considering what that would look like. There is definitely room for positive change – and the good thing is that it seems that the student population is interested in helping make it happen.
Today, I spent the afternoon being a professional homo (in the I’m volunteering my time sense) at a Club Rush event for my school. It was pretty epic, as we were without power for the first half of the event, and only got lights back as it was too dark to see and we were ready to pack it up. I saw two students who were unaffiliated with any clubs during the entire time, but both of them were interested in the as yet non-existent LGBTQ Alliance Club.
Even with such a light turnout, I am actually cautiously optimistic about the club – or at least creating *some* sort of infrastructure that is explicitly welcoming and supportive of queer students. There were some fabulous activist-minded folks affiliated with other groups and the Student Leadership Council, and there is definitely room to build something that will be self-sustaining as a resource for queer students – and, possibly just as importantly, the communities and families from which they come.
Every person who came by my table had a story to tell: a relative who was transitioning despite a desperately conservative and deeply religious family; a gay daughter expecting her first child; friends, cousins and siblings who were queer. Every person who came by the table today identified as an ally, and every person evidenced a desire for the presence of a club or something queer-focused so that they would have a safe space to learn and help create positive social change. And while the queers were not out in force today, they have responded via an interests survey. It is clear to me that there is a need for something to serve not just the queer population at my school but also our allies – something which is inclusive, and provides a space for education, dialogue, and support.
In fact, it may be our allies who need this resource the most: people whose children have just come out, or whose co-worker is in transition. While not queer themselves, these are people who still experience an identity shift; they have to change the way they think about a person, and it may bring up issues around religion, politics and morality. There’s a lot of change that happens when a person that comes out of the closet, and a lot of it happens in the community in which the person lives. Their friends, acquaintances and loved ones have to learn new ways to think about the world.
Where, though, exists the safe space for people to learn about what a queer or transgendered identity means? The university is a natural choice; it is a place of learning which welcomes a diversity of experience and works to foster positive social change through dialogue and mutual respect. The university has the potential to provide space to learn in a safe way that doesn’t involve finding the nearest gay friend and asking them potentially inappropriate or disrespectful questions. Given the unique considerations of my school, queer visibility and support is crucial not just for the LGBTQ populations but for their allies as well.