Reaching Out to Build Up Events – Cedar Crest College

Last Thursday, I visited a local GSA, OutThere at Ceder Crest College, an all girls’ school near Allentown. It was such a great experience; it’s the first time in several months that I’ve been involved in a GSA meeting, and it was my first experience with an all woman queer group. I was really amazed by the passion and energy of this GSA, and they were eager to tap into some of my experience as a queer activist, especially with some of the events I’ve helped put together. There are many tips I have to make your group’s event bigger, more powerful, and more visible. Below are just two such tips, both involving reaching out in order to build up your event.

Reach out to Faculty – Hosting a speaker or panel can be one of the best ways to get some real information out there. The hard part is getting a significant attendance at these sorts of events, since they are not as fun and interactive as other events. The sad truth is, while many college students are interested in queer rights and would like to learn, the idea of going to another lecture after being in classes all day can be very unappealing. There are many techniques a group can use to circumvent this. Some examples include advertising heavily, having interesting and passionate speakers, getting the audience involved by letting them ask questions, providing food (pizza works miracles on a college campus), and keeping the length of the event reasonable (If its more than an hour, I’ve noticed interest quickly diminishes). One key strategy to bolster the attendance and get your group well known on campus is to reach out to the faculty. Find classes that are somehow related to the topic of the speech, even if the connection isn’t incredibly obvious at first. If you can explain to the professor how the event is connected to their class, they can tell their class about the event. For instance, while I was at college, I talked to several woman’s studies classes and got them to attend events focused on transgender issues by explaining how gender identity and gender expression were critical in a woman’s right to express however they wanted to. A professor giving just a few extra credit points to their class to attend you event can significantly improve attendance. Not only that, but it may bring in people who previously were not interested nor informed and help educate them. Of course, some of these people will not care and are only there for the grade, but it still exposes them to the queer community and forces them to at least acknowledge our presence.

Reach Out to Other Groups – I’ve talked before about the commonality of oppression, the concept that, regardless of whether you face hatred in the form of racism, misogyny, homophobia, or transphobia you are facing hatred that stems from the same source. That provides a good enough reason to reach out to other diversity based groups (such as the local chapter of the Black Student Union, NAACP, Woman’s Center, any social work groups, etc). There is another reason that is more practical though. If you host an event with, for example, NAACP, where you talk about Black Queer Women in History, the audience you will get will be significantly larger, as you will at least get part of the typical crowd from your events and NAACP events to attend. The impact will be greater than this one event though; it can have a lasting impact on your campus. In my experience on campus, one of the main causes of homophobia or transphobia was ignorance. Building relationships with groups that may not, at first, seem to be related to queer issues is an incredibly powerful way to fight this ignorance by exposing large groups of people in a very safe and comfortable way to LGBTQIA issues while they are surrounded by their peers. Sustain these relationships by trying to send some of your members to events hosted by these other organizations, and make it clear your group supports theirs. You may be surprised to find more of their members attending your group’s event as well.

Before I finish, I wanted to give a personal thank you to all of the members of Cedar Crest College for making me feel like a welcomed member, not just a guest. I’m really glad I came; it really recharged my activism batteries, so to say. I look forward to working with all of you more soon, and I’ll be there Thursday night this week for sure!

The “Best” Type of Activism

I often hear arguments about what sort of activism is the most effective, legal, social, or personal. This seems to be a problem for many college GSA’s, but is a huge issue in the older LGBT community. Some people argue that making legal change is the most impactful. Other groups want to focus on helping LGBT individuals one on one to come to terms with their sexuality, gender identity, or gender expression, whether through counseling or going out and partying. Still other groups focus on impacting their local community, impacting society in general. Of course, the terminology that is used differs from group to group, but I really feel like they tend to focus on one field the most: the single person, the society/community, or the legislation/institutional level.

However, a good friend, Justin Gilmore taught me something that immediately became imbedded in my mind and my philosophy. While it may seem like three separate ways of doing activism, they are all one. I warn you, the following example is an over simplification to show how my theory about queer activism works. Also, Justin, if you are reading this, I apologize if my paraphrasing is off.

For instance, if I focus my activism specifically on the individual, on counseling, empowering, and educating each person, that person will, hopefully, feel more comfortable expressing themselves, being open and proud of their sexuality, rather than being closeted and shy. If every member of my group is out and proud, there will be an impact on my immediate community. They will notice dozens of people being out, hosting events on our campus, waving their rainbow flags, and/or holding their rainbow umbrellas. The people who are out will  educate people around them about what it means to be LGBT, why it is not something to be afraid of, and how other members of society can become allies (You cant think gay people are big scary monsters when you meet face to face with a normal, well adjusted LGBT person). If these people being out and proud make an impact on our community, legislators against us will not be able to say “There are no gay people in my constituency” (which every single politician against gay rights, from my senator here in PA to the president of Iran) and legislators who wish to support us will be able to push for bills of tolerance and acceptance, since more people in their constituency are supportive of gay rights.

This also works in reverse. If my focus is on lobbying, getting legislation passed, working at the institutional level, and for instance I get a non-discrimination bill passed in my county (which is, essentially, a bill saying I cannot be fired/evicted/denied care/etc for being LGBT, something which is extremely rare in PA). Now many LGBT individuals do not have to be afraid of losing their jobs for being out. This allows people who want to be out and proud to be so without fearing losing their jobs, homes, etc. These individuals will make an impact on their immediate communities (Say, for instance if the person in the cubicle/desk next to you who wears a suit and tie every day comes in a dress tomorrow). These individuals were empowered by the legislation we passed. These individuals then make an impact on their society. If the society becomes slowly more accepting of LGBT individuals, perhaps a gay marriage bill can be passed. This will, again, empower individuals.

So this is my view on queer activism. I can understand that some groups find one way or another the most effective way of making change, but I think we can all agree all three forms of activism are important in their own way.

As for how I approach activism, I find I personally work best on the social level. Standing up in front of a lecture hall or on a stage at a rally in front of some big crowd is where I have made some of my strongest impacts. This is just due to the fact I am a good public speaker. However, the work done for instance by EqualityPA is amazing. I would love to do more lobbying and pushing for bills, but right now I know I can make the most impact at the front of an audience.

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