Pride event sparks discourse between communities

At Pride Alliance’s bi-annual “Gay? Fine by Me” event, members of the LGBTQ-plus community opened up about their various experiences to create more understanding between themselves and the straight community. A panel of five people began the night by telling a story to the audience. The panel included Pride president junior Nikki Toner, professor of sociology Anne Eisenberg, chemistry department faculty member Daniel Jacques and graduate student Shay Phillips.

The stories ranged in subject, with each person describing a defining moment in their life.

“[The stories] were not necessarily a coming out story, but a story that brought us to where we are now,” Toner said.

Toner spoke about her entire life, but focused her story on seventh grade when she confessed to her friend that she had a crush on her. She described the pain it caused her when the school administration dramatically responded by moving her seat across the room, and how she was banned from speaking to her afterwards. She pretended to be straight for a full year after the incident due to the backlash she received from her school and the girl’s mother.

She also spoke of her life since then, and how her story relates to who she is today and her current goals.  She wants to work in guidance and help other people in her situation, so they do not have to feel as alone as she did.

“I basically told my coming out story and how it influenced me,” she said. “I’m the president of Pride because I want to reach out to people let them know that someone is here for them, unlike my own experience.”

Jacques talked about how his family of Jehovah’s Witnesses refused to stand by him when he came out and the pain it caused, while Phillips preached about the faults with the gender binary, and how members of the trans community have the right to retain their privacy in the face of invasive questions.

“You are letting people know that you want to show them support,” Toner said. “The straight people can relate to the experience … and the people who have lived through it themselves have a sense of community.”

After the panel spoke, they opened questions to the audience. The discussion that followed offered tips for coming out professionally amid other topics.

“Gay? Fine by Me is very attractive because we are telling our stories but at the same time we field a lot of questions … [the audience] is educating [itself] and we’re here to answer these questions,” Toner said.

She emphasized the turnout of straight individuals on campus, and believes the event is an opportunity for them to become more educated and supportive of the struggles of the LGBTQ-plus community.

Toner said the most important takeaway for the audience was that people should not make assumptions about others.

“If you jump to conclusions, not only are you going to make someone uncomfortable but you are going to miss out on a lot of what that person has to offer,” she said.

She added that she hoped the talks made it clear to other members of the LGBTQ-plus community on campus that they are not alone in their experiences, and that there are others willing and ready to support them on campus.

“I think of all the other people who didn’t get through the experience, and that’s why I’m here,” she said. “That’s why I do what I do.”