First GSA meeting held on campus

Over 20 students and two faculty and staff members gathered on March 20 for Eastern’s first Gay-Straight Alliance’s first meeting.

According to senior Mandy Matthias, the group was formed in order to create “a safe atmosphere of support for students dealing with sexuality.”

Matthias and junior Jeri-Lynn Aquino have been working to start the alliance since the beginning of the semester, though both said that they had been talking about the idea since the fall.

“We never really thought ‘we are going to do this’ until this semester,” Aquino said.

Matthias and Aquino received approval from Vice President of Student Development Bettie Ann Brigham to start the alliance. They are now in the process of seeking SGA approval, according to Matthias.

They are not keeping the name “Gay-Straight Alliance,” however, due to some of the organizations to which the international GSA is connected. Matthias said that they have not yet decided on a new name.

The students who came together for the first meeting echoed Matthias and Aquino’s vision of support and safety for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning members of the Eastern community.

“I’m here largely in support of my homosexual friends,” junior Emily Gerhart said. She said that although homosexuality is considered a taboo subject for Christians, “I love homosexuals. They are people too.”

Students voiced concern about Eastern students’ attitudes toward homosexuals.

Sophomore Heather Lindsay said that she has encountered close-minded attitudes toward homosexuality on campus. “I’d really like to raise awareness and embrace a more accepting attitude-whether you believe [homosexuality] is right or wrong,” she said.

“[My friends] love to talk about it as an abstraction or a political issue,” added sophomore Nick O’Ryon. “This year I started to realize how deep the insensitivity goes…Christ was not about abstractions. He was about being real and honest with people.”

Other students brought very personal stories to the meeting.

“I am gay,” said John, a senior who asked only to be identified by his first name. “I’m getting more and more open about it. I have a group of friends on campus that are very supportive.” He added that he sees the GSA as an educational tool.

Clayton Johnson, a graduate student, also spoke about his personal struggle. “I attempted healing, counseling-rather wishy-washy counseling-I attempted celibacy, and I attempted agnosticism,” he said. Finally, he came back to Christianity.

“The kingdom is not supposed to exclude any people groups,” Johnson said.

Jackie Irving, the Multicultural Student Advisor, said that she’d had students in the past who would ask her about starting a GSA, but nothing ever came about. Addressing the group, she said, “We are here to support you. It is our desire that every student has a safe space.”

Matthias said that she thought the “safe space” had been created at the meeting.

“I didn’t know how it was going to go,” Matthias said. “I didn’t want people to feel outed if they came…[it was] a million times better than I expected. It was totally comfortable and safe.”

Both Matthias and Aquino are looking forward to the Equality Ride, which will come to Eastern in late April.

“I would love for the group to be involved in that,” Matthias said.

Aquino added she is not worried about the Ride. “I have a lot of faith in the people here,” she said. “I think people will be mature. I’m trying to think positively about what’s to come.”

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