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Discussion explores LGBTQ issues at Saint Mary’s

| Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Saint Mary’s Justice Education Program presented a discussion on LGBTQ justice Wednesday as part of a new semester-long series called “Justice Wednesdays” hosted by Dr. Adrienne Lyles-Chockley with presentations from various students.

The discussion of LGBTQ issues centered on how students could support family and friends in the LGBTQ community. Presenters junior Molly Smith and sophomore Bri O’Brien spoke about their personal experiences with supportive friends and faculty in the Saint Mary’s community.

Smith said she suffered from an eating disorder in her high school years that made discovering her own sexuality more difficult. She said she never considered questions of sexuality or gender despite therapy and group work.

“No therapist or anyone put that out there,” Smith said. “A doctor asked me if I was straight and I automatically answered yes.”

Smith said there seemed to be no resources to help her consider her sexuality throughout her four years of struggling with an eating disorder. She said she began to feel more like herself the first time she opened her mind to being lesbian or bisexual.

Smith said she believes talking about the issues surrounding the LGBTQ community eases the problems that come from having a relationship on campus.

“Having more open conversations can help those who question or who are out,” Smith said.

Smith said she and O’Brien, her girlfriend, have close friends who accept and love them, but she said she also faces conflicts with people who have opposing views.

“The first semester of the year was fine, but then we found out people were spreading rumors and it was almost a slap in the face,” Smith said.

Smith said she and O’Brien knew little about the rumors and received dirty looks from girls on campus.

O’Brien said she thought about switching schools after friends said they did not support her and Smith’s relationship. She said the conservative atmosphere of the Saint Mary’s campus increased her desire to transfer.

“I thought it would be easier to go to Western Michigan [University], where they have a center for the LGBTQ community, but I decided to stay because what will happen to the LGBTQ community?” O’Brien said.

Assistant professor of communication studies Marne Austin said she believes students have more potential to create change than faculty. She said she would incorporate student suggestions into the readings for her courses and would share the suggestions with other faculty members.

“Neutrality is a guise for oppression,” Austin said. “Challenge to say something.”

Austin said she believes speaking up for the LGBTQ community can do more than refusing to talk about the issues the community faces.

“Silence is a choice. And when you choose to stay silent in moments of hate, you choose to let that hate perpetuate,” Austin said.

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