Sarah Mastroni – News Editor –
Amidst the frenzy of upcoming presidential elections, equals rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community is still a hot-button topic. While the issue remains a strong one across the country, the idea of equality for LGBT college students is present at Southern, which sees an eclectic mix of races, ages and sexualities each semester.
Anthony Crisci is the managing director of the tri-state non-profit Pride Network, and believes that although the vast majority of bullying seems to occur during the middle and high school years, it still takes shape in other forms in colleges and universities throughout the country.
“Colleges are full of ‘indirect bullying’ which may mean hearing the word ‘fag’ or ‘that’s so gay’ being thrown around,” Crisci said. “When students are repeatedly exposed to these experiences it can have the same effects as bullying such as breaking down self confidence, creating a sense of insecurity, and making someone feel unsafe to express themselves.”
Southern offers LGBT students outlets, such as the student led Prism club.
Russell Smith, assistant to the director of housing, said that the goal of Prism is to build community and advocate for the needs of LGBT students.
“It’s important in terms of visibility. Simply the existence of Prism shows prospective students, staff, and faculty that Southern is a place where they can find community and be safe,” Smith said. “Prism does a great service to the campus population by being visible and putting on programs that educate individuals about issues they might not previously have been aware of.”
Prism meets on Tuesday evenings at 7:30pm in room 201 in the student center.
Regardless of the progress of the United States and the political allies who have backed the equality of the LGBT community, the message is not clear to everyone, and that includes college students.
“According to GLSEN [Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network], LGBT adolescents are two to six times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers,” Smith said. “Furthermore, students who come out to their families or are outed to them also run a much higher risk of being kicked out and potentially being homeless.”
When it comes to the issue of housing, Southern has it taken care of with their Gender Blind Housing option for gay students who are not comfortable or suited for traditional housing.
Dr. Julie Liefeld, director of Counseling Services, said that the space is limited, but is given to students on a first come, first serve basis.
“Counseling Services is involved because we are always available and students can talk to us confidentially if they just want to find out about housing option,” she said. “When students talk to us about their discomfort in traditional housing, we also use that opportunity to check to see if bullying or harassment has occurred, and if so, to offer support, judicial or other services.”
As of 2011, as estimated by the William Institute at the UCLA School of Law in California, there are about nine million gay, bisexual, lesbian and transgender individuals living in the United States. Southern’s part in accommodating the percentage that live on campus or commute is what makes the university a welcoming option to prospective students from across the state and outlying areas.
Smith believes that in his lifetime, LGBT Americans will be as equal as the straight population, but it will take work by staying socially aware and proactive.
“Students can help make [LGBT inequality] no longer the case by becoming educated on the issues and becoming civically engaged,” he said. “Vote in elections for ballot measures in favor of equality for all individuals. Vote to elect officials who see LGBT rights as human rights that should be shared by all. Talk with your friends and family about the issues. Introduce them to your LGBT friends.”