Posted April 19, 2012

Supportive community helps LGBTQIA students end their silence

Students crowd into Saxby’s coffee shop with notebooks and iPods in hand, preparing to perform and listen to spoken-word poetry. As they approach the microphone, some share stories of love and life, others speak of personal experiences related to coming out to family and friends.

This event is a first for Briana Edwards, president of the Queer Student Union (QSU). While the Temple advertising major spends most of her time advocating for queer youth on campus and throughout Philadelphia, poetry isn’t her typical mode of communication. She admits to the small crowd that she’s a little nervous, but a round of supportive applause quickly bolsters her confidence.

Edwards says events and meetings like the spoken-word poetry circle, where she performed one of her first poems, helps strengthen Temple’s Lesbian, Gay, BiSexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersexual and Asexual (LGBTQIA) community. This week, several students discussed their coming out experiences in a series of videos leading up to National Day of Silence, the April 20 event held to call attention to the silencing effect of bullying and harassment on members of the LGBTQIA community.

“Coming out is difficult at any age,” she said. “It’s important for students to know that they have support and resources here on campus. We try to make sure we’re visible by constantly working to connect students with each other to create a more supportive environment.”

Support for LGBTQIA students at Temple ranges from programs offered through Temple’s Health Education and Awareness Resource Team (HEART) to the annual celebration of National Coming Out Week (NCOW) and social groups like the Purple Circle.

“The community on campus is large and very accepting,” said Nu’Rodney Prad, advisor to the Queer Student Union. “There are a lot of programs on campus for students. A lot don’t realize that we have peer-to-peer groups, faculty and administrators who work to increase awareness about the LGTBQIA community.”

LGBTQIA community allies are also strong on campus, said Prad, who helps organize Temple’s annual National Coming Out Week events on campus. The group is also developing a video in recognition of National Day of Silence.

“Those who don’t identify as LGBTQIA have a place in the community as well,” he said. “Temple has several strong allies who constantly work to support issues related to the community.”

Begun on Main Campus in 2008, NCOW attracts a mix of students to a week-long celebration. Last year’s activities included a panel discussion led by members of QSU on how race and religion affects sexuality, and a “Come Out, Speak Out” night during which students shared coming out stories with others.

“NCOW had a great turn out and received a lot of support last year,” said Edwards. “It was encouraging to see the community come together for a week of events. Some campuses only recognize a Coming Out Day, if it’s recognized at all.”

Philadelphia as a whole has a very strong LGBTQIA community, which helps make Temple a compelling choice for students, said junior and political science major Dashiell Sears, who was named Mr. Gay Philadelphia 2011.

“Where I came from there was no community per say — it wasn’t big,” said the Hanover, Pa. native. “But when I came here I met other students who were openly gay or coming out. It helped being able to talk to someone.”

Sears, who is also member of Temple’s men’s gymnastic team, acknowledges that there's a stigma attached to coming out at a young age. But, as people become more educated about differences in sexuality, students in high school and college are gaining the confidence to speak up and talk frankly about their life choices.

“Most students come out while they’re in college,” Sears said. “It’s just easier when you know that you’ll be accepted by your community and friends. Even with support it can still take time to be comfortable and secure with who you are.”