A couple of weeks ago, TCC held a series of special events centered around the Constitution. The first workshop was supposed to be about the 14th Amendment – we’ll get into that amendment in detail in an upcoming Civics on Saturday, but suffice to say that the main idea is that states can’t “abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.”
I say it was “supposed” to center around the 14th Amendment, but it didn’t, really. Yes, the amendment got a quick overview, but the bulk of the discussion was focused on the panel of queer youth from a local support organization who volunteered their time to come and talk about what it’s like to be one of the few groups left which is actively, and some (I) would say illegally, discriminated against.
They spoke less about the discrimination and more about what it’s like to be a largely misunderstood minority. They gave their coming-out stories, they talked about how difficult it can be for straight people to understand their fears and concerns, they talked about how people who used to be their friends stopped being their friends when they came out to them (there were a lot of pronouns in that sentence – did I make sense?). The queer kids were brave and honest, and the students at TCC had a lot of questions.
As I sat in the back of the room, taking all of this in, I started thinking.
I’ve always been an outspoken ally. A lot of people I love and care about are queer, and the fact that they can be summarily discriminated against – or worse – just for who they are is completely unacceptable to me. I refuse to accept that queer people are somehow less worthy of the rights, privileges and responsibilities that everyone else enjoys, and the fact that civil rights can be kept from queer people means that MY civil rights are in jeopardy, too.
I make a point of letting my students know that I’m an ally. I manage to work something about gay rights and my stand on them into every class I teach, whether it’s a conversation about gay marriage as a potential persuasive speech topic in my public speaking class or an essay about being gay in a world full of straight people in my composition class or this piece that I use as part of my “this I believe” unit in my foundational English class. A student has to actively NOT be paying attention to miss that I am a safe place for queer kids.
There hasn’t been a single semester that I’ve worked for TCC that I’ve not been approached by a GLBTQ student looking for someone to talk to, someone to come out to, or some advice about an issue surrounding their diversity. That, combined with some of the questions that the audience had for the panel who came to speak during Constitution Week, told me that there was a need on campus, and it’s a need I’m eager to fill.
I sought, and got approval for, the charter for a gay/straight alliance on TCC’s campus. I spoke with the president of the college at length, and he’s given me his enthusiastic and unflagging support – I am, frankly, a little surprised by the incredibly positive energy that I got in response to my request; I was expecting a bit of resistance. On the contrary – I got not only the blessing of the president, but he’s promised to attend meetings (he’s going to be a speaker at the very first meeting in two weeks) and he’s even offered funding so that I can purchase buttons, stickers, and posters for the students who join, I can fund trips, I can book speakers, and I can arrange for social events and movie nights.
I’m really excited about this opportunity. I really think it’s going to make a difference to a bunch of kids on campus, and I’m pleased to be a representative of tolerance at TCC.