Acceptance through education

Photo courtesy of GS Gay-Straight Alliance

Coy Kirkland

Georgia Southern organizations often offer students a chance to be with like-minded people and provide support and care much like a family. One organization that takes the family attributes and values is the on-campus Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA). The organization is a student-lead club that seeks to bring together LGBT and straight students to support each other, provide a safe place to socialize and create a platform to fight for racial, gender, LGBTQ, and economic justice issues. GS has historically stood for Gay-Straight Alliance, however many chapters have expanded the name beyond the binary Gay-Straight terminology.

“It is an important place on campus to be because it’s one of the only if not the only safe space for people of the LGBT community to come and feel safe and have a community together so they can connect on their orientation or gender identity or just people that just want to help progress things on campus for them like allies,” Andrew Wiggins, GSA President said.

20% of college students fear for their physical safety due to their gender identity or their perceived sexual orientation according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. The safety of having a group for the LGBT community is paramount to students well being. Taylor Neloms, freshman civil engineering major and marketing chair of GSA, emphasizes the importance of the organization.

“GSA is so far the only LGBT organization on campus so for incoming LGBT freshman or people who don’t really feel comfortable talking about their sexuality or identity can come to people that are like them while feeling safe and warm like a family when they are away from home,” Neloms said.

Neloms also mentioned that everybody is welcome and that admittance to club events is not based on sexual orientation or identity but instead is focused on coming together to help with the same cause.

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One veteran among GSA’s ranks is vice president Ashley Strickland, junior sociology major,has been a part of GSA since freshman year and has been to every meeting since. Strickland believes it is really important to have a space for LGBTQ+ people to feel included.

“We really try to make GSA and Coffee Talk a very diverse and inclusive space. This year we have been trying to talk about intersectionality because every person in the [LGBT Community] has more identities than just being gay, bisexual, queer, or transgender,” Strickland said.

A recent study performed by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force found that 31% of college students feel that their college campuses thoroughly address LGBT issues on campus. One of the core missions of GSA states is to help promote and educate others on these topics. They work with grassroots, youth-led groups and other GSA chapters, empowering them to educate their schools and communities, advocate for just policies that protect LGBTQ youth from harassment and violence, and organize in coalition with other youth groups across identity lines to address broader issues of oppression. Wiggins states that he has seen small strides on campus such as unisex bathrooms and plenty of professors and staff members across campus that are safe space trained specifically to help out. He believes these movements are starting small but are able to grow.

GSA has a multitude of opportunities to reach out to the community and hosts many events that are open to all students. Every Monday at 7:30 p.m. GSA hosts their weekly official meeting which is open to anyone. These meetings serve as a chance to meet the leadership and see what plans the organizations is making. Also every Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. GSA hosts Coffee Talk, an open invitation meeting in the Williams Center, that serves as a chance for people of the community to attend and discuss with others about varying topics. These events normally have an overall topic about a current event or experience and then leaves it for the group to discuss and elaborate their own personal feelings. This community approach allows the attendees to form deeper connections and creates a safe environment for them to meet. Also, it is important for people of all sexualities and gender to attend in order for a true understanding of some key issues to take place.

Georgia Southern Health Services provide a multitude of services and accommodations for the LGBTQ+ community.

“We recognize that LGBTQ students may have specific concerns or issues that they want to be treated in a sensitive, caring, and comfortable environment. We want all students to feel comfortable and not feel that they have to hide their identity to come to a medical appointment,” according to the GS Health Services website.

The Health Center provides full confidentiality for its patients as well as the ability to change your preferred name and gender information. They also provide individualized treatment.

Coy Kirkland, The George-Anne Enterprise Reporter, [email protected]