Building awareness, creating a space for students to ask questions and guiding people to resources– this is what 2019’s LGBTQ Solidarity Week was all about. Around campus during the week of March 25 – 29, there were colorful, rainbow flyers adorning every cork board in sight. A table in Walton Hall was stocked with stickers, skittles and the smiles of students ready to engage with people passing by. These students are members of Refuge, a club designed to support LGBTQ students and allies, providing support for the group that is a minority on campus.
I spoke with Lizzy Parker, Refuge’s leader, to ask her the specifics of this year’s Solidarity Week. Parker gave me a rundown of each day’s event: Monday’s event was a panel of LGBTQ allies who discussed allyship and advocacy; Tuesday’s event was a showing of The Imitation Game with a discussion following the film; Wednesday’s event was a panel of pastors from local LGBTQ-affirming churches; Thursday’s event was a talk by a guest speaker, Brandon Robertson, an activist and pastor of Missiongathering Christian Church in California; and Friday’s events were the Solidarity Stand in the late morning and a candlelight prayer service in the evening. These events gave students a chance to learn about Eastern’s LGBTQ community, and the Christian LGBTQ community broadly.
In addition, Solidarity Week is also to advocate for specific changes that would be beneficial for Eastern. According to Parker, one of these advancements would be better housing options for transgender and nonbinary students; this change is supposedly in the works. The second advancement would be a change to the faculty handbook, allowing open, LGBTQ professors to teach at Eastern. At this time, professors in the LGBTQ community are not permitted to teach.
Refuge members are driven and determined to make Solidarity Week an educational, valuable resource for Eastern’s community, but this is not an easy task. Parker surmised that Refuge has to jump through hoops to make Solidarity Week happen — hoops that other clubs would not have to jump through. “There is always the obstacle of worrying how events will be received by donors, alumni, professors and other students,” She said.
In the past, Solidarity Week was funded from the students themselves or other generous members of Eastern because Refuge was not funded by SGA. This was the first year the club received funding, allowing them to bring in guest speakers and host bigger events. Perhaps, though long overdue, this could signal a positive shift in the Eastern community.
The Ally Panel was a very impactful event for myself; panelists, Dr. Landi Turner, Dr. Sharon Gramby-Sobukwe, Sara Piff, Eric McCloy and Joe Saba, discussed how they viewed allyship and its connection to their faiths.
A highlight of the event was stressing the use of appropriate language and terms. Saba talked about the use of the word “queer,” which at one point, may have been used in a derogatory manner; however, the LGBTQ community has reclaimed this word and uses it as an inclusive term. I learned using “queer” instead of assuming an individual’s sexual orientation or identity is appreciated! Each faculty or staff member on the panel strives to use inclusive language in the classroom and workplace and tries not to speak on issues from a heteronormative perspective.
Dr. Gramby-Sobukwe expressed that she does not see herself as an ally, but a comrade: “Someone who is down for the fight” and “Will stand with you!” Events, such as the Ally Panel, may have provided students a new perspective and a chance to learn, which is one of the main goals of Solidarity Week.