Thursday, February 18, 2016

Experiencing the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transexual Community by Samantha Brookes

author Samantha Brookes

The minute I got to Hofstra University I knew what club I needed to join. As a bisexual, I wanted a place I felt where I belonged, surrounded by people who enjoy what I enjoy and who deal with the same struggles as I do. The Pride Network is Hofstra’s only undergraduate lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transexual (LGBT) club. It's a club that not only acts as a support group for youths who come seeking help with everyday LGBT struggles, but educates those who don’t know what LGBT is and wish to learn more about the community. Jahmila Smith, the president of The Pride Network here at Hofstra, informed me that the Pride Network is a nationwide organization that began here at Hofstra in 2008. The club has set up multiple communities in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and is currently “working to set up chapters in Pennsylvania” (Smith). The Hofstra chapter takes an active role not just within the university, but within nearby communities, seeking to enlarge the conversation.

In high school, I was confronted with confusion and misunderstanding. Many could not bring themselves to understand or accept my sexuality. Once after having explained my bisexuality to a friend, she burst into laughter. “A river doesn’t flow both ways,” she told me. Forget that the remark is not even accurate for rivers (the Hudson flows both ways for great distances); human bodies have a lot more choices than do bodies of water. I sat through the rest of lunch watching as what I believed to be two, welcoming friends talk about how my sexuality couldn’t possibly exist and I should just choose a side already. On other occasions when I would express my sexual orientation, friends would ask, “Are you hitting on me?” What could I say? I was stunned into silence. Just because I like girls as well as guys, I automatically hit on every girl I saw? I know this lack of sensitivity and empathy for a non-mainstream identity is what many minorities face. However, with sexual bias, it often doesn’t stop at jokes. LGBT people are beat up, spit on, hurt, put down and hated. Perhaps the height of homophobia is most appallingly expressed in the denial of allowing LGBT people to be themselves. “One in three LGBT kids will go through some form of ‘conversion therapy’” (Sargent) in camps that offer therapies that no human---certainly no child---should ever have to endure. What starts with lies at these camps soon devolves into torture. In “5 Things I Learned at a ‘Pray Away the Gay’ Camp,” J.F. Sargent interviews Sam Brinton, who provides some clear insight into the torture: “My hands were tied down and ice was placed on them while I was shown pictures of men. Later sessions would include copper heating coils, needles in my fingers, and electric shocks” done “while Sam was shown gay porn. Then they'd take the coils away and show . . . men and women holding hands” (Sargent). In these camps, anything and everything is done to scare the gayness out of any one who entered. To think that some parents would put their own children through such indignity is unbelievable but true.

So it isn’t surprising that one of the biggest problems LGBT youths face is finding emotional support and becoming comfortable enough to be able to come out to the people they care about. “The period prior to coming out can be a time of significant stress” (Coming Out) and the Pride Network is Hofstra’s own support system for such stress. Jahmila told me, “Everyone is welcome to attend our GSA [Gay Straight Alliance] meetings at 8:30 p.m. on Thursdays in the Student Center Room 141” (Interview). Having only attended one GSA meeting in high school, I had understood that, if one went to such a meeting, one was automatically assumed to be gay, so it was a pleasure to see that this was not true at Hofstra’s GSA meetings. I am happy to see that the GSA is a place where all forms of sexuality are celebrated. Not only are Hofstra’s gay-straight meetings more welcoming, the LGBT club is much more active, too. They recently hosted a Drag Show on campus with a special guest from RuPaul’s Drag Race to celebrate drag queens, who stand beautifully at the peak of the LGBT community. Within Native American culture, transgender people are honored as being two-spirited, meaning that “they carry two spirits, that of male and female” (The Way) and are considered the parents of orphans and visionaries who help with relationships between male and females because they are said to understand both the spirit of the female and the male.

In addition, the Pride Network also coordinates, corresponds with and sponsors many of the other clubs that host events on campus. For example, during HIV/AIDS Awareness Week, the Pride Network teams up with the Student Advocates for Safe Sex (SASS) to host events to promote greater understanding of HIV/AIDS. Much to my surprise, they also co-host events with intercultural and religious clubs in order to help integrate the LGBT community into different religions and cultures and ensuring understanding and acceptance in all intercultural and religious clubs on campus. Like my mother, I was raised a Unitarian, a form of Christianity that accepts all forms of religion and people, bringing then together in the “search for truth and meaning” (Unitarian). As soon as it was legal, my mother’s church performed a wedding for two elderly women who had loved each other for many years. So I never understood how certain religions and cultures could preach against love and understanding. I know that not every religion and culture is as welcoming to the LGBT community as my own family’s. Due to the shaming of homosexuality in many religions, those raised in such environments find themselves tucking away the gay parts of themselves “from the eyes of the world with an inherent fear of judgment and disdain from those who opposed who” they are (Picciano). As Kelsey Picciano (see “Forging a Whitmanic, Post-traditional, Bisexual Identity” at Taking Giant Steps, January 28, 2016) wrote, “How can an openly bisexual female sit through the service of a religion that proclaims her sexuality to be an abomination” (Picciano).
The Pride Network recognizes how disorienting this contradiction can be for LGBT people to face and wisely works with other clubs to ensure that LGBT students can feel welcomed within every space on campus. Perhaps the clearest indication of how serious and skillful the Pride Network can be is that fact that they are in constant communication with Hofstra’s administration. Whenever the campus wishes to hold an event that has anything to do with the LGBT community, the administrators go directly to the Pride Network which acts as the face of the LGBT community. When professors are dealing with issues involving lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transexual people, they know that the LGBT club is open to them for any questions or help they may need. The Pride Network also works directly with the Saltzman Center and Public Safety when confronted with a student who may need help beyond what the LBGT club can provide. The Saltzman Center is the place students go when they are struggling with stress and need someone to talk to and help push them through. So when a student is no longer able to deal with the stress and exhibits depression or suicidal thoughts, the LGBT club isn’t afraid to go to the Saltzman Center counselors to get the student the help they need. Sometimes, these depression/suicidal signs appear due to harassment some LGBT students may face. In such cases, the Pride Network is willing to be the spokesperson for the student and to go to Public Safety to get the student the protection (s)he may need. Hence, the LGBT club offers not just one service but multiple services, making sure that students are never alone no matter what they may be going through.

Although they do so much already on campus, the LGBT club spreads even further off campus. They are a part of many events throughout New York City. Just in the past month, they have gathered donations for the Trinity Place, a center in Manhattan that has made it their mission to “help homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ) youth and young adults in New York City to safely transition out of the shelter system and grow into independent, positive, and productive adults” (Trinity Place Shelter). Sometimes, when an LGBT youth comes out to their families it isn’t seen as an event of joyous discovery but rather an event of devastation. Not everyone is so accepting. In some families, being LGBT is considered sinful, disgraceful and evil, so some youths find themselves on the streets simply for being who they are. The Trinity Place provides a safe haven for youths when these situations arise. Even more recently, the LGBT club has participated in the Out of the Darkness Walk against Suicide to help raise money “for AFSP’s [American Foundation for Suicide Prevention] vital research and education programs to prevent suicide and save lives. The walks raise awareness about depression and suicide, and provide comfort and assistance to those who have lost someone to suicide” (AFSP). It turns out that suicide is a growing epidemic among teenagers, especially among LGBT youth. The rates have “increased and by 2013 stood at 12.6 deaths per 100,000” (Facts) in America. For teenagers the rate is 10.9 and “LGB[T] youth are 4 times more likely” (Facts About Suicide) to commit suicide due to the pressure they are placed under. However, suicide isn’t exclusive to the LGBT community. The issue of suicide is a problem that is being faced everywhere and deserves the full support of everyone, not just those within the LGBT community. The Pride Network makes it an issue to include anyone on campus who wishes to participate, not just people within the club.

For anyone whose sexual identity has been met with ignorance, fear, and a lack of empathy, the LGBT club is a welcomed haven. Joining this group has been the smartest decision I have made in my life. They deliver more than an escape from the misunderstood world in which we LGBT students live; they manifest the future we hope for in which all forms of ourselves---lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual, or straight--- are accepted, appreciated and celebrated.
Samantha Brookes and Elexis Gibson

Works Cited

"About." The Pride Network. The Pride Network, n.d. Web. 17 Oct. 2015.
"Coming Out :" Coming Out : LGBT Helpline, n.d. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.
"Facts About Suicide." Facts About Suicide. The Trevor Project, n.d. Web. 08 Dec. 2015.
"Facts and Figures." American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Dec. 2015.
Picciano, Kelsey. “Forging a Whitmanic, Post-traditional, Bisexual Identity," Taking Giant Steps, Web, January 28, 2016.
"Out of the Darkness Walks." American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, 2015. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.
Sargent, J.F., and Sam Brinton. "5 Things I Learned At A 'Pray Away The Gay' Camp." Cracked. N.p., 1 June 2015. Web. 21 Nov. 2015.
Smith, Jahmila. Personal interview.
Smith, Jahmila. "Interview for Comp." Message to Samantha Brookes. 14 Oct. 2015. E-mail.
"The Way of the Two Spirited People." Dancing to Eagle Spirit Society. Dancing to Eagle Spirit Society, 2008. Web. 08 Dec. 2015.
"Trinity Place Shelter." Trinity Place Shelter. Trinity Place Shelter, n.d. Web. 27 Oct. 2015.
"Unitarian Universalists Have Diverse and Inclusive Beliefs." UUA Top Stories. N.p., 09 Feb. 2015. Web. 21 Nov. 2015.


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