Another Kind of Panther Pride
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Year to year, the tables in the Study Center during Presentation’s Gay Straight Community meetings have been surrounded by small groups of upperclassmen who invite friends whom they know are “safe”– supportive, or who belong to the same community. Sophomores, and especially freshmen, have skipped out on attending these meetings reportedly because there was no one they knew who could break the ice for them and make their settling in an easier task.
These past two years, however, have shown an influx of new members, the majority being underclassmen. What has changed? And to what extent has this group influenced the lives of young LGBT students?
Every Thursday during lunch, students file in through the doors of the Study Center full of excitement and chatter and find a seat in the small room, searching around for snacks that someone, be it one of the moderators or a member with time to kill and love to spare, has inevitably made.
The order is practically set in stone— by the time the three underclassmen make their way into seats saved for them by the other members of the group, the room is full of freshmen and sophomores, who are already regaling others with their tales of triumphant confessions, discrimination, and hilarious coincidences.
These confident, funny, and prideful individuals have come a long way from the shy students peeking their heads in through the door at the beginning of the year.
The reason for their timidity? Estrangement. But not from the other members of the community.
“I was concerned that my parents would find out or that some friends might find out and they might judge me or something,” says freshman Celia Henryson*. To belong to a group publicly, especially a group as discriminated against as the LGBT community, is a scary decision to make.
And as an underclassman, there are many more stress factors piled on top of the fear of discrimination. “Maybe it would be harder for me to make friends if people thought I was gay,” says freshman Alice Arnold.
“As a freshman, everything was really new, so adding [the GSC], I thought it might make things more stressful or complicated,” says Henryson.
What seems to be ameliorating this problem is the presence of familiar junior and senior faces.
“The first time [I’d heard of] it was on the daily bulletin, but I was too nervous to show up,” says sophomore Susan Smith. “I met a cool upperclassman who kind of brought it up and that just kind of pushed me to going, because then I was like hey, there’s somebody I kind of know.”
Once the upperclassmen sow the seed, the freshmen and sophomores flower all on their own via word of mouth.
“I was going through a hard time trying to understand my sexuality and I didn’t know where to go,” says Henryson. “And then my friend suggested I go to a GSC meeting.”
Usually, their fears are assuaged by the pleasant experiences of their friends.
“I kind of kept my sexuality to myself because I was kind of afraid to come out,” says sophomore Whitney Newman, “but after seeing them come out and seeing that they were okay, I was ready to join.”
The change in demographic is a considerable one. “Last year we would see five to ten students, mainly upperclassmen,” says moderator of the group and Director of Student Development Britany Tufnell. “This year we have outgrown the study center with the majority being underclassmen.”
And this makes a world of difference.
The impassioned voices of young peers cheering each other on brings about a sense of ability. With the rapidly changing political climate, there has been a great increase in LGBT activism and awareness since the 1980s. The youth of today are encouraged to find joy rather than shame in who they are, and because of this, more and more of our students have found the courage to wear their identities on their sleeves.
“Group is the best part of my week, I love the students!” says Tufnell. “I love that the GSC allows students to be their authentic selves. Students shine in group, it is beautiful. My hope is that one day they can feel comfortable being themselves everywhere on campus.”
This group is truly an important part of the societal growth that starts here at Pres. And with the comforting atmosphere, the group has become like the accepting family many of the members needed.
“They were really supportive when I came out to my mom and that didn’t go as planned,” says Newman.
“I feel like I got to learn more about the community and I feel like I got to really like myself in the process,” says sophomore Elise Michael. “I feel like it’s a safe place for everybody,not just people in the LGBT community. It’s a free space for anyone who wants to come and learn about it and it’s just a great space for all people.”
Teachers and faculty are also welcome to attend the group and be a part of the family. There certainly is much to learn from the new generation of LGBT individuals. “Pronouns are the best place to start,” says Tufnell. “It has taught me to be more cognizant when I am addressing a group of students: I learned to break the habit of saying ‘ladies.’ When I create activities for Student Wellness I make sure they are gender neutral and include examples of all relationships.”
And the members have nothing but praise for the weekly event.
“Even if you don’t have LGBT friends, it’s still a good place to go just to learn more, because you never know when you might meet someone, or you never know what you might discover about yourself in the future,” says Smith.
The Gay Straight Community, which meets every Thursday at lunch in the study center, is a haven for all who need comfort in their identities, a cornucopia of information for all those seeking answers, and a den of friends for all others.
And there is no one left behind.
*Pseudonyms are used for all student interviewees. The Voice policy is that any LGBT students who have not yet come out their parents must remain anonymous until they do so. They can also choose to use a pseudonym to protect their anonymity, even if they are out to their parents.