Monday, January 21st, 2019

There’s more out there than heteronormativity

Posted on April 14, 2016 in News
By USM Free Press

By: Candice Isaac

On April 1, several student staff members from the USM Center for Sexualities and Gender Diversity headed down to Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York to attend the 21 annual Northeast Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Conference. The three-day conference highlighted many ways to discover and develop best practices, programs, resources and policies to support the LGBTQ community at campuses across the northeast. Too often heteronormativity, which is based on attitudes that heterosexuality is the only normal and natural expression of sexuality , is pervasive in our culture leaving those with different sexual identities feeling marginalized. CSGD staff members were amongst several local, regional, and national activists and organizations who share in the vision for judgment-free campuses where anti-LGBT sentiments are non-existent.

The conference held several interesting and relevant workshops as well as breakout sessions often led by student leaders who personally dealt with the topic. Presentation titles included “GaySL: A Crash Course in LGBTQ American Sign Language,” “Organizing at the Intersections of Black Lives Matter and& Gender Justice,” “Appropriation versus Diversity: Beating the Double-Edged Sword,” “Things Nobody Tells You About Coming Out,” and “How to Create an LGBTQ Friendly Campus.”

“From Fear to Advocacy,” was a presentation led by Jay Hicks, a young man who shared his personal story on how he went from victim to victor. Hicks talked about dealing with the mental and physical ramifications of being a victim of a hate crime and his triumph to regaining his life and becoming an advocate for LGBTQ students on his campus.

Hicks noted that several university outlets such as university counseling, the office of student affairs and advisors that were sympathetic to LGBTQ students were to thank for supporting him throughout his journey to healing. He also mentioned that students become informed of university resources such as medical withdrawals that can help them deal with their pain and also maintain their good academic standing. Peer mentoring was equally important to the speaker who said that without that he might have felt more isolated after the incident.

Conference attendees also had the opportunity to hear from American actor and singer, Mya Jeanette Taylor. Taylor talked about her journey as a transgender woman and how her life has changed for the better since landing a leading role in Sean Baker’s film Tangerine.

Taylor’s candid personality helped some audience members open up about their own personal struggles about not being accepted by loved ones once coming out. Taylor reminded student attendees that being, “respected, not accepted” was important, as not everyone will agree with your lifestyle changes. Taylor also suggested that those lacking family support create and build relationships with friends as those are the people that they will need to depend on during tough times.

The conference ended on Sunday, April 3 with an uplifting unified exercise led by Adaku Utah, an award-winning liberation educator and organizer committed to healing and liberation within oppressed communities. Utah began with a mindfulness meditation exercise to help attendees center and ground themselves for the work that lied ahead. Next, Utah talked about how human connection and interdependence was needed for humans to be and feel supported throughout their lives.

This idea supported the overall message during the conference that the LGBTQ community, along with allies, needed to be there for one another during what would be difficult times. What followed was several exercises based on really getting to know the person you were paired with.

Utah said “too often we give polite answers to the question “how are you?”” and challenged attendees to go deeper and to share how they were really doing. This exercise led to comments by attendees that they never have the opportunity to share how they are really doing. One participant said that the exercise was difficult because she felt vulnerable because no one she encountered before had ever cared.

Understanding our heteronormative society and learning how to include and support other sexual orientations will have many benefits for us on campus which is work that the CSGD continues to encourage. The USM  Center for Sexualities and Gender Diversity seeks to ensure a university environment that is positive, safe and supportive for individuals of all sexual orientations and gender identities, in particular members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning and Asexual community.

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