On Tuesday, November 12, as a part of Eastern University’s Unity Week, Refuge sponsored the “Busting LGBTQ Stereotypes” panel. Refuge is Eastern’s Gay-Straight Alliance, open to students and faculty who desire to support the LGBTQ community and would like to participate in discussion about the issues they face.
The purpose of the event was to promote open dialogue among the Eastern community regarding the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community on our campus and in our world.
Before the panel, Landi Turner, a professor at Eastern University and the advisor of Refuge, gave a quick overview on some basic LGBTQ concepts that would be helpful to know upon listening to the panel. She primarily worked to distinguish between the terms sex, gender, orientation, behavior, and identity. Sex is biology, as it refers to anatomy and chromosomes. Gender considers how someone identifies him/herself. Orientation is whom a person is attracted to. Behavior is simply what one does. Identity is who someone feels he/she is. Also, she briefly discussed gender expression, which is how a person expresses him/herself (i.e., through attire), as well as the terms transgender, which is an umbrella term to describe people who identify outside of the binary on the gender spectrum, and transexual, which includes people who identify with a physical sex that is different from their biological one.
Then, the panel was introduced. The panelists included Efram Harkins, Ryan Frederick, Tom Apostolacus, and two other Eastern students who wish to remain anonymous, and the moderator was Grace Geisler.
The first question the panel answered was regarding coming out and telling people about their sexual orientation. The panelists spoke about their experiences, which were varied. Some were met with positive reinforcement and support, while others had or were anticipating receiving more negative responses.
Next, the panelists were asked if they believed Eastern was accepting of the LGBTQ community. Again, everyone on the panel has had a different experience while interacting with other students and faculty. Certain panelists had never had any major issues and have usually felt respected and welcomed at Eastern. However, for some, feedback from the Eastern community has not always been positive. An anonymous panelist commented, “Eastern hasn’t really looked at it as a part of doing justice.”
The following question was centered around LGBTQ representation in the media. The panelists were asked if they believed that the media completely and accurately portrayed the LGBTQ community and also about the importance of proper representation. Many of the panelists agreed that the media mainly focuses on heterosexual people, and, even when the media portrays certain aspects of the LGBTQ community, these portrayals are skewed. One panelist pointed out that the media frequently portrays the “flamboyant” gay white male, while other groups, including LGBTQ people of color, lesbians and transgender people, are rarely depicted. Ryan Frederick affirmed the importance of equal representation in the media, stating, “It’s important to have queer representation because you want to see someone like yourself.”
Another question that was tackled was how Eastern students can promote dialogue about LGBTQ issues, and make it more educational and beneficial for everyone involved. The suggestions given by the panelists included listening and asking questions, reexamining the Christian narrative, identifying oneself as a safe person, which means standing up and saying something upon hearing anything that excludes or is insensitive toward the LGBTQ community, being respectful, and being willing to educate oneself.
Then, one of the panelists who identified herself as asexual was asked to define the term. Many people know less about asexuality than other sexual orientations, yet many feel it is equally important to understand. The panelist defined asexuality as the lack of sexual attraction. With a laugh and a good attitude, she clarified that “asexuality is not reproducing on my own!”
The panelists were then asked about how they reconcile being a Christian and a member of the LGBTQ community. They discussed the experiences they had while exploring their faith and their sexuality. On a similar note, many Christians wonder about the acceptance of the LGBTQ community within the Christian community. Tom Apostolacus shared a related observation. He pointed out, “Whether or not it’s a choice shouldn’t determine whether or not you respect that person.”
The next big question was one that has been debated frequently: Is orientation a choice? Landi Turner stated, “It’s not something that you can force or control or choose…”
To close out the night, the panelists were asked what advice they had for people who decide to stay in the closet (not disclose their sexual orientation) for different reasons, one being because of other people. Ultimately, they agreed that anyone who is thinking about coming out should do what makes them comfortable. However, they also encouraged LGBTQ people to come out when they are ready as a significant part of embracing who they are. Ryan Frederick said, “If you don’t feel like you’re being true to yourself, what’s the point?”
Although the event was only one night, the discussion is nowhere near over. Refuge holds weekly meetings on Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m. in Upper Walton. Anyone is welcome to come to the meetings and take part in meaningful dialogue about the issues faced by the LGBTQ community.
A message from Student Development:
Our Approach to Our Work in Student Development
In addition to our EU Mission Statement, our Student Development Mission Statement and our Student Learning Outcomes and because every student is important to us, we want this for each one of them: to love Jesus and model all actions and interactions after him; to act with integrity in all matters; to respect and take care of their own minds, spirits and bodies as they also care for the minds, spirits and bodies of those around them; to thrive while in our community, and as a result of their time with us both inside and outside the classroom; to find meaning throughout the rest of their lives as they make a positive difference wherever they are in the world.
Photo credit goes to Jessica DeLong