SIUE’s Gay-Straight Alliance student organization is putting a heavy emphasis on mutual respect after recent bias incidents on campus.
Sara Simpson, a sophomore nursing student and the vice president of the GSA from Galatia, Illinois, is a strong advocate for respecting views among the SIUE community.
“My biggest thing is just trying to understand [the LGBTQ community], even if you don’t agree with us at least try to see our point because [GSA] makes an effort to try to see everybody’s point of view,” Simpson said.
GSA recently held an information panel on what to do if someone comes out to you, for coming out week, on Oct. 12. SIUE staff, faculty and students were able to ask questions and gain information about making a coming-out plan: what to do when someone comes out to you and receiving resources for transgender and nonbinary students.
Simpson said a Christian group confronted the panel and GSA tried to answer their questions.
“We held our panel during coming out week and a Christian group came up to us out of nowhere and spent an hour asking us questions regarding our religious beliefs and how that corresponded with LGBT identities,” Simpson said. “I am Christian and one of our other executive board members is Catholic, but they didn’t want to accept that we were gay, Catholic and Christian.”
Some members of the Christian group tried to listen and understand while others tried to say they were sinning. Simpson still appreciated that she was able to try to teach them about the LGBTQ community.
“We have been confronted by Christian groups on campus and we’ve made an effort to try and talk to them and tell them how we feel and have a civil conversation, so we just appreciate when people who don’t agree with us will at least try to see our side,” Simpson said.
Webster Dyer, a senior geography student from St. Joseph, Missouri, who helped Bryon Pierson, a former student who advocated for the LGBTQ community last semester, present his Serenity Plan – a multi-step plan to better the LGBTQ community at SIUE over a two or three-year span. Webster said he would combat prejudices of the LGBTQ community using education.
“I believe hate and prejudices comes from ignorance, and so I think the best way to combat prejudices is just to prove to people who have these views is that we are similar to them and that we are human beings just like they are; we are normal people too,” Dyer said.
Simpson said the incident that has really impacted her negatively was with the preacher that used to come to preach a sermon on the Straton Quadrangle concerning the sins of homosexuality.
“One preacher used to come every week on campus with his megaphone and one day he preached about homosexuality being a sin and it was one of his last sermons,” Simpson said. “[The preacher] had been on campus a lot and had never gone that far, but after he did do that, he was reported and I believe they didn’t allow him back on campus.”
Lydia Durr, a senior psychology student and the president of GSA said another form of respect is taking into consideration a person’s preference with pronouns.
“If someone tells another person they use they/them pronouns, and calling them she/her or he/him instead of their preferred pronouns is really rude and can really hurt that person’s feelings because it shows that you don’t really care,” Durr said.
Durr said being a part of the LGBTQ community is not a choice and a lot of people are not aware of that.
“It’s important for them to know that it’s not a choice, I hear that all the time that people think being gay is a choice, but really it’s not,” Durr said. “You can choose who you date, but that is different from who you are actually attracted to romantically, sexually or both.”
After the bias incident involving a homophobic slur keyed into the hood of a student’s car, Dyer said he believes administration has done a good job of trying to find who is responsible for the incidents.
“I think administration is doing all that they can,” Dyer said. “I followed last year’s administration’s follow-up when a student had a slur posted on their door and I think they did a good job of giving the student who was hurt the proper attention and also doing the best they could to go after whoever it was that did that.”
GSA has been working to let SIUE know they are accepting of all identities and encourage anyone who supports the LGBTQ community to get involved.
“We’re trying to be active and get people involved and we’re open to all different kinds of identities; it doesn’t just have to be gay,” Simpson said. “Even if you don’t have an identity yet or you are just questioning, you can still come to the group and learn.”
Durr said a name change to the organization will possibly be made to make it more inclusive.
“We are talking about changing the name to True Colors Alliance,” Durr said. “With GSA, it tends to out people right away even though it’s supposed to be open for allies too, but generally if you’re a part of GSA people are like, oh, Gay-Straight Alliance, you must be gay, and that can really out people when they don’t want to be outed.”
Simpson encourages those who are confused about their identity or are just interested in learning to come to a GSA meeting.
“We encourage them just to come to the meetings and get involved with members so they can know they are in a safe space,” Simpson said. “We can help them find information if they have any questions and we’re very open, especially the executive board, with sharing our stories how we came to realize our identities and struggles we went through to help people know they are not alone.”