Monika Arbudzinski is sitting in the room where queer students and their allies congregate: literally the Queer and Allied Student Union (QASU) room. The importance of this room cannot be undermined. In a society where hate crimes against LGBTQ individuals runs rampant, safe spaces can become vital. FBI statistics from 2007 show that 11 percent of hate crimes against LGBTQ individuals occur at school. Congress has defined a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.”
We come to college to learn, but many students never have to take a course about sexuality; not enough students know just how serious this problem is. This creates a significant venue for misunderstanding, and it is in this environment that hate begins to form. We are afraid of the unknown and so we mask our fear with disgust, contempt and even violence. Creating safe spaces for vulnerable populations is particularly important on campus, and that is one function of QASU.
It is clearly one aspect of QASU that Monika appreciates, as she frequently sits in the room to do homework. She tells me about her experience being part of the “Q” in QASU and what it really means to belong in the “A” group.
“I’m a pansexual. It basically means whether or not I’m attracted to a person doesn’t depend on sex, gender identity or gender expression.” When she entered high school, she decided to join the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA).
“This is gonna be awesome! I thought. We’re going to watch movies and have fun! But you’ll never guess what happened.” She pauses, pressing her hands on her leg, and tells us about Jackie, a girl who found out about Monika’s sexuality in middle school and made fun of her for it.
“She walked in the (GSA) room. I never went back. It was like … if she’s calling herself an ally or nice person, just … no.”
Being an ally is more than going to meetings and being theoretically against homophobia (the hatred of homosexuals). Allies need to stand firm in their convictions and utilize their heterosexual privilege to speak up about the atrocities LGBTQ individuals live through. According to Bullying Statistics, gay and lesbian teens are two to three times more likely to commit suicide than other youths. 30 percent of all completed suicides have been related to a sexual identity crisis.
If these statistics make you livid, QASU provides a wonderful platform for allies to join and offer support. To be an ally you do not need to be fully educated on every issue facing the LGBTQ community; you simply have to be compassionate and willing to take a stand against hatred.
It is this hatred that those in QASU are acutely aware of. Though Monika recalls her story light-heartedly, she is well aware that others are not quite as lucky. She is in a space where photos of happy gay couples can hang on the walls and no one bats an eye, a space where people can talk about being pansexual without fear of harassment. But it’s not only about gay pride and drag shows. Like all students, Monika talks about the difficulty of choosing a major and a career path.
“I want to … I guess I want to do the really general ‘helping people’ thing,” she says. And with a mission statement that promotes “inclusion, equity and social justice,” helping people is exactly what QASU does.
BY APRILL EMIG firstname.lastname@example.org