Gay-Straight Alliance wins UAF Diversity Award

The Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) student group at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks won a Diversity Enrichment Award and $100 at the SOAR awards ceremony on Saturday. The GSA is leading the effort to add gays to the UA non-discrimination policy, participates in the annual Day of Silence against anti-LGBT bullying, and raised awareness about the controversial ex-gays when a workshop was held on campus.

The Diversity Enrichment Award is one of seven awards given to UAF student organizations and focuses on positive social change through community education:
Diversity Enrichment Award: To recognize a student organization that has demonstrated a significant commitment to enhance diversity on campus through efforts to promote a campus climate that respects and appreciates individual and cultural differences. Groups will be evaluated primarily on their educational outreach efforts. Groups can address any of the following elements of diversity: culture, race, color, creed, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, sex, age, and economic status.
The UAF Gay-Straight Alliance has shown a strong commitment to promoting campus diversity through educational outreach. Their leadership on campus issues effecting gay and lesbian students, staff and faculty has benefitted UAF, the UA system and the wider community. They are an excellent choice for the Diversity Enrichment Award.

The Gay-Straight Alliance participates in Day of Silence each April to bring attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools. Last year, the GSA wrote stories and poems on a Silence Memorial and held a candle-lighting assembly in Cornerstone Park. They broke their silence with a screening of The Times of Harvey Milk and a discussion of GLBTQ issues on campus.

This year, Day of Silence is on Friday April 16. The students will be silent during the day, meet at 5 p.m. by the Wood Center for a Break the Silence yell, then gather in the Alumni Office Lounge for food and music. A Breaking the Silence Drag Show is on Saturday.

At the beginning of the school year, the UAF students and staff were confronted with a large banner advertising a pray-away-the-gay speaker with offensive and controversial claims. The GSA supported his right to speak, but were concerned that the huge banner created a negative school climate for LGBT people and our friends. They contacted Chancellor Rogers, made a colorful banner advertising the GSA meetings and hung it next to the anti-gay banner, organized a peaceful sit-down protest, tabled with materials from reliable sources when deacon Delgado spoke, and even attended his first speech to hear and respectfully discuss the presentation.

The GSA turned this difficult event into an opportunity to raise awareness and spark a dialogue with the Chancellor, the Regents and the UAF community. In return, they received an outpouring of support from the campus. GSA president Jessica Angelette summed up the experience:
"The GSA not only had people stopping by the meetings after the whole thing, but it was so amazing to see how much support we were getting on campus... For those who were once worried about how the campus feels about GSA being on campus, that week the speaker was here showed us our campus' true colors. The support we recieved was a happy and welcomed surprise. I have never been more proud to be a part of this campus then that week."
During 2009 and 2010, the students of the UAF Gay-Straight Alliance are traveling around the state asking the UA Board of Regents to add sexual orientation to the non-discrimination policy. They speak during the public comment portion of every open Regents' meeting, explain their concerns about the lack of protection for LGBT students, staff and faculty, maintain a Facebook page to keep the community informed, organize email campaigns, answer questions from reporters, and respond to attacks from a statewide anti-gay group. Their dedication has won them the admiration of the Regents and the community.

The Regents decided in January that they will deal with the GSA's request during this year. Regardless of the outcome, the UAF Gay-Straight Alliance is educating the Regents on why this policy change is essential for protecting diversity at the University of Alaska.

Congratulations to the UAF Gay-Straight Alliance for winning the Diversity Enrichment Award!

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