Solidarity in Spirit and Action

- a guest post about Spirit Day by Lauren, president of the Gay-Straight Alliance at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks

Today we wore purple to celebrate and rejoice in unity for each other within the LGBT community, coming together in support of one another. The simple act of incorporating the color in our wardrobe today was a powerful action that showed our friends, neighbors, family and strangers that there are people who care about you, about me, about everyone. We asked our friends and family to wear a color to show their love and they did, and to everyone who wore purple today, to show your support, we thank you.

I don't know if you heard, but just hours before Spirit Day commenced, another young man couldn't bear his pain and took his own life on campus at Oakland University in Michigan. Though the police reported that bullying was not an evident factor in 19-year-old Corey Jackson's death, we all know that there are many kinds of pain that drive us to the edge and, oftentimes, over it. I wept when I read the article; my heart hurt as I read and I just couldn't believe that just before our day of pulling together as an allied community, that one man was unable to hold on just one more day. I think the response of Melissa Pope, the director of the university's Gender and Sexuality Center, sums up a lot of what people are feeling today and recently in response to the rash of suicides that have ravaged our nation and communities the past two months:
We must look beyond the term "bullying" to the overall treatment of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community to begin to grasp the long-standing epidemic of suicide among our LGBT youth.

While the national press has picked up this issue over the last two months, we have been losing high numbers of LGBT youth to suicide for decades. In recent years, we've labeled the cause as bullying. But the root cause goes deeper – it goes to the very core of our society that discriminates against the LGBT community on all levels, including the denial of basic human rights that are supposed to belong to every person.

As I sit with the students who regularly visit the Oakland University Gender and Sexuality Center, including the newer members of our community, drawn to the Center for affirmation and support, I am confident that these individuals know they are loved and accepted for who they are. My greater concern is the hundreds of students, faculty and staff who do not come to the Center. Those who are afraid to come out – perhaps even to themselves – for fear of the persecution they will suffer. My greatest hope is that those who feel isolated reach out to resources like the GSC to discover they are not alone. We are here to listen and offer support.
I, too, hope that people out there can find somewhere they feel safe enough to share their burdens. As I write this, I'm listening to SuperChick's "We Live" on repeat because of these words that make up the chorus: "We live, we love, we forgive and never give up / Cuz the days we are given are gifts from above / And today we remember to live and to love". That entire song is about learning to live when you know life is hell, when there isn't much you can do. Each day, we just need to remember to live and love. To not give up, to keep moving forward, because it gets better. It really does, I promise. I wouldn't be here, writing this to you all, if it didn't.

There are safe spaces on campus if you feel overwhelmed by anything in your life, related to sexuality or not, and it doesn't matter if you are an LGBT student or not. Here at UAF, you can go to any of our GSA advisors for advice (hence the title 'advisor') or anything that you need. You can go to the Student Health and Counseling Center. Talk to a friend, an RA, your Dorm Director, peer mentor, friendly person on your floor. Call your parents, if you feel comfortable, or call someone you can trust. The GSA meets every Wednesday at 4:30pm at the Library, room 502. Anyone and everyone is welcome to come to share their stories--because all stories deserve to be listened to. Even the people in the Office of Multicultural Affairs and Diversity office (OMAD) are cool enough to listen with respect if you come to them. You can apply these suggestions on different campuses as well--get in touch with your diversity/LGBT clubs, your Women's Center, Men's Center, health center, and faculty that help advise these groups and services.

Outside of campus, there are many places you can go if you are being harassed or bullied in any way. If it's bad enough, let the police know (do this if you are on campus as well). Treat harassment, even if it's 'not important' or 'not violent' in the form of verbal abuse, as a potential attack and tell people. Tell anyone who will listen. Sympathetic ears really work wonders for hurting hearts, and they generally come with shoulders you can cry on. Your friends are friends for a reason: they know you, support you, and love you. If they don't do these things, they're not good friends (and you should think about making new ones). Let them help you out of a bad situation. Is it a loved one who is targeting you? Find someone to help mediate some sort of conflict resolution meeting AFTER extracting yourself from the situation. If your faith is kosher with the way you love (like many are growing to be nowadays), find someone who can guide you on that front as well.

No one deserves to be hurt for who they love. The way I see harassment is that it is like a cancer--you can often not tell that it's there. It might be subtle as a butterfly's kiss or like a freight train barreling down the tracks, but it is there. Early treatment of the situation will generally help resolve the issues, but sometimes you need other outside help. Build your support network up and get help dealing with things if you are confronted with harassment, abuse, and/or bullying. Violence, verbal abuse, bigotry, pick the poison: none of it is all right or acceptable, and if you find yourself in a situation where you are dealing with these issues, get help. Now.

In the end, wearing purple alone does not help us get over the fact that bigotry leads to abuse in its myriad of forms. What it does is identify those who are capable of supporting us while we deal with said abuse. No one should have to live or stay in a place or situation that does not support them--no one. Domestic or not, violence in any form is not something that should be a part of our social community. Whether you are gay or not, if you are confronted with harassment, you are able to take charge of the situation. You are not a victim, you are someone who has the power to change what is going on to you. People can only hurt you if you let them, right? Don't ever let them. Get help. A lesson I had to learn the hard way is that asking for assistance is not a sign of weakness, but rather a form of power.

Be powerful, my friends.

No comments:

Copyright © 2008 by Bent Alaska.