As a cis-gendered woman, when I’m walking around campus any day of the week, I don’t usually think about how it could feel different if I identified as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, or any other identity not included in the Gender Binary we’re used to.
On Wednesday, April 8th, I attended the Out On Campus Panel presented by Madison Equality’s Annual GayMU Pride Week (April 6th-10th). Six panelists of current and former JMU students openly identifying as lesbian, queer, pansexual, gender-fluid, and/or genderqueer, who were willing to answer anonymously-asked questions from the audience about what it’s like to be out on campus. The panel taught me a lot about how we can be good allies to the Queer community at JMU here and now.
GayMU week is all about inclusivity, showing support for JMU’s LGBTQIQAP+ community through raising awareness, and educating ourselves about LGBTQ issues by going to events or using social media. This helps the queer community to feel loved and accepted by the JMU community at large because we want everyone to feel safe and included here.
Last year’s GayMU week experienced backlash from the JMU community in the form of threatening emails sent to executive members of Madison Equality, and a discriminatory Twitter account called “StraightJMU.” This incident showed a terrible lack of support from JMU’s student body, as well as the administration. Attitudes like this can feel very scary and isolating to their targets, which makes this year’s GayMU week all the more important.
The panelists said they feel that JMU’s atmosphere is more “tolerant” of the LGBTQ community, rather than truly welcoming and accepting. Examples of this are that we barely have any gender-neutral bathrooms in public spaces on campus, trans students lack options for dorms/housing and are usually put in single rooms, sometimes queer students experience staring or even harassment like yelling and throwing things at them from windows on campus, formal complaints have been filed for homophobia in classrooms, and there’s only one queer group on campus -Madison Equality, and it’s located in the Health Center- somewhere you go if you’re sick. Things like this can be very isolating for the queer community and for anyone who doesn’t fit into the gender binary.
We can’t fix all of these things ourselves, but there are things we can do as allies to be more inclusive, accepting, and welcoming to queer identities. The first thing we should all do is educate ourselves. Find out what issues the queer community faces, learn more about an identity different from your own, anything helps to get a new perspective on identity.
We can be more inclusive to everyone through our language. Try to use less binary language, and offer the pronouns you use -he, she, ze, they, etc. to open the opportunity up for others and make them feel comfortable. We should do our best to call out discriminatory and insensitive comments that are homophobic or transphobic, and educate those around us about being inclusive of other identities, but we should also remember that as cis-gendered people, we shouldn’t speak for/over the voices of the actual queer community. Instead, we should do our best to raise up their voices into visibility, and let them speak for themselves.
Go to events, educate yourself, and show support. Allyship requires participation, not just passive nods. Get training form Madison Equality on how to be a good ally, and educate yourself today so that we can create a better, more welcoming community for everyone here at JMU, and do our best to be inclusive of all identities.