New LGBT and Allies club seeks to create dialogue on campus, provide safe place for all students.

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Photo courtesy Ben via Flickr (CC)

Story by Heather Gonzales

The new LGBT Fellowship and Allies Club seeks to be a place where students can welcome one another through their differences and similarities, and offer support through community, say club organizers.

What was originally two separate clubs, seniors Ashlan Gardella, Anna Benedict, and Aiden Perkins brought the two together with the hopes of making a safe place for students to eat lunch every week, make friends or simply feel at home and comfortable.

But, beyond being just a hangout, the club has also started holding discussions about LGBT issues. Recent topics included the impact of the presidential election and how to manage coming out, Gardella said.

“Group discussions provide a sense of togetherness and can help people feel like their voices are being heard,” Benedict said. “Especially in a club like this, discussions are beneficial because it makes it easy to share opinions safely through things if we need to.”

As with any controversial subject, there is a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation about LGBT issues. Club organizers said they hope to provide a place to have constructive dialogue.

As an example, club organizers point to the potential use of different pronouns in the LGBT community.

For instance, a person almost always assumes the pronouns of the gender they were assigned at birth (boy, girl; he, she). Over time, though, one may come to realize that the pronouns that they are usually called do not suit them anymore. They may want to change which pronouns they identify with.

If a person you know switches from she/her to they/them pronouns, it may be difficult to comprehend at first. However, Gardella and Benedict urge others to try their hardest to correct themselves when they are not around the person, when they are thinking about them and when they are in front of them.

“Ultimately, it’s not about you,” Benedict said. “It’s about the person and their comfort. If somebody says they go by ‘they’ pronouns and you don’t really know what that means then just ask them to explain it [and] always ask questions.”

Another question is whether or not students should be educated about the LGBT community. Natalie Barrera, a senior at North Star Online school, believes that younger generations should not be shielded from things that older generations do not feel okay with.

“Everyone needs to know that it’s totally acceptable to be different,” she said. “It’s totally acceptable to feel attraction towards your same gender. It’s totally acceptable to feel as though you don’t belong in your body. People need that sort of education so they can advance and know that no matter what, they’re valid.”

Some textbooks, according to Gardella, gloss over LGBT matters and are outdated in a sense that they switch gender and sex around, which is misinformation. Sex refers to one’s biological identity: female or male. Whereas gender refers to an individual’s role in society or concept of themselves.

“There are [also] certain diseases and certain risks for same sex couples that they don’t teach us at all,” Gardella said. “They only teach us straight sex. There’s a large majority of the population that has same sex sex and yet they don’t teach it. That could be very harmful for people because there are certain health risks and people need to know about safe sex [either way].”

Non-gender specific bathrooms also tend to cause a ruckus.

But, Gardella supports gender neutral bathrooms. She thinks the argument that non-gender specific restrooms are unsafe has more to do with phobia than safety.

Mrs. Hickman and Mrs. O’Neill, the club’s advisers, are okay with non-gender specific bathrooms, as well.

“In our homes, we have non-gender bathrooms,” O’Neill said. “I’m okay about it personally, but I don’t know if society is ready for it yet.”

Both teachers, however, accept the fact that there are people out there who may be worried about their children using those bathrooms with people of different sex or gender.

“Chances are if the man is identifying as a woman he’s not going to bother the child; it has nothing to do with that,” Hickman said. “In essence, it’s really a woman that’s in there with their [child]. I would hope that people [would] embrace a little more equality and not really worry about stuff like that, and just look at people for people.”

It’s that idea of acceptance that the LGBT Fellowship and Allies Club is aiming for.

“No matter what, we’re not just talking about sexual orientation, it could be any type of orientation,” O’Neill said. “[People] need to accept themselves, because if they don’t accept themselves no one else can. If they think something’s wrong with them, or they feel ashamed of themselves or they feel scared to be who they are, there’s no way no one else can accept them. So first things first is self acceptance.”

For more information about the LGBT Fellowship and Allies Club, join them in room 104 Thursdays at lunch.

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