Students share personal stories in GSA-led event week

Last week, Oct. 8-12, Whitworth’s Gay Straight Alliance hosted a week of events educating students on the issues and struggles concerning the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning community.

The GSA network, founded more than 20 years ago in California, is an organization committed to fighting homophobia and transphobia in schools. There are currently thousands of branches in middle schools, high schools and colleges nationwide according to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

Whitworth’s GSA — which sometimes coordinates with other chapters in the region — has had a lot of student involvement so far this year, said sophomore Audrey Gudeman, GSA president. Twenty to 30 members attend meetings regularly, and the student turnout for GSA week events was significant, she said.

One event took place each night between Oct. 8 and 12: a lecture and discussion of homosexuality and Christianity, coming out stories, a panel discussion, Q&A with a gay and a rainbow-themed costume party to conclude the week.

The overall goal of GSA is to offer a safe and supportive environment for discussion among people of all sexualities, but the specific intent of last week’s events was to spread knowledge and awareness outward to the rest of the student body, Gudeman said.

“This is something that’s not really talked about, and it needs to be talked about,” Gudeman said.

She said that there are several popular misconceptions about the gay community which can lead to ignorance and hostility faced by homosexuals. Such stigmas include the belief that AIDS is a gay disease, that marriage equality is solely a liberal issue and that homosexuals are inherently perverse and promiscuous, she said.

Senior Caitlyn Davis, GSA member, said that such preconceptions are not true. She said that the media furthers the public’s idea of homosexuals as provocative or lustful.

“What the media portrays is stuff like Pride Week. It’s all highly sexualized. But it’s more than that; you want to be able to spend your life with the person you choose,” Davis said.

Another common myth is that all branches of Christianity condemn homosexuality, Gudeman said. She said that Lutheran, Presbyterian and Anglican churches, among others, now ordain open homosexuals.

Monday, Oct. 8, a minister from Bethany Presbyterian came to discuss homosexuality in Christianity. He addressed several Bible passages pertaining to homosexuality, discussing the content and the meaning of the scriptures that are frequently referenced in the debate about gay rights.

The following night, Tuesday, Oct. 9, students gathered in the coffee shop to hear coming out stories of their peers. Speakers read or told either their personal story, or the story of someone who had elected not to speak.

Davis and Gudeman, among others, shared their stories. Gudeman said that the experience is terrifying, yet worth it. She said that sharing the personal pain and discrimination she’s faced allows other people to understand the impact of their sometimes thoughtless and often hurtful words.

“It’s very difficult to talk about, but it’s worth it. I would tell it a million times if I could get one person not to say something mean,” Gudeman said.

Davis said that gays can often be treated as different or foreign by others, but giving a voice to the issue makes it more personal.

“It gives a personal face to the issue. [Listeners] realize that it could be anybody. It changes people’s minds,” Davis said.

Sophomore Jorie Rehnberg attended the evening’s event, and said she thinks that it is beneficial for people to hear these stories.

“Once you realize that they’re just people, it can close the rift that people put between themselves,” Rehnberg said.

She said that knowing these stories and hearing them first hand can allow for greater acceptance and less hostility toward gays.

“I grew up really sheltered. If I had understood then that there are people out there feeling like this, I think I would have had a lot more compassion,” she said.

A panel discussion was held Wednesday night, further promoting “open conversation” of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning issues, and Thursday, Oct. 11, GSA hosted Q&A With A Gay, which allowed students to pose questions to out gay individuals. Friday, Oct. 12, the week of events came to a close with a rainbow-themed celebration.

Katherine Knoll Staff Writer

Contact Katherine Knoll at kknoll16@my.whitworth.edu.