Today marks the final day of the Gay Straight Coalition’s first annual LGBT Awareness Week. Having featured movie screenings, talks and discussions, the week will close with a reflection tonight at 7p.m. in the Grotto.
For the GSC, the timing of the week could not have been better. The GSC intentionally chose to host the week during LGBT History Month, but it also happened to follow New Jersey’s recent decision to legalize gay marriage. Both events echo the GSC’s commitment to raise awareness of LGBT issues and promote acceptance of LGBT students.
On campus, the GSC seeks to provide a safe space for LGBT students and allies, people who do not identify as LGBT but support the LGBT community. They meet once a week to get to know each other and discuss news related to the LGBT community. The GSC also strives to raise awareness on campus, hosting events honoring World AIDS Day in December and Day of Silence in April. The LGBT Awareness Week is their most recent effort to reach out.
The main goal of the Awareness Week is to make the presence of the GSC and LGBT students known.
“The GSC really wasn’t visible on campus,” explained sophomore Danny Shea, one of its members. “We wanted to change that. Since part of the goal of GSC is to make LGBT students feel welcome on campus, we felt that it was really crucial to raise awareness of the fact that there are gay and lesbian students on campus.”
Ash Kalani, a member of the GSC’s steering committee, agreed. “The Villanova community may be welcoming, but our own fellow students fail to show allyship,” he said. “By using this week to reach out to allies, we can increase the support for our community so that current and future students can feel more comfortable coming out to their friends.”
One of the most visible ways the GSC tried to encourage allyship was through the use of a table by the Oreo each day. Behind it stands a white door covered with colorful Post-it notes. It’s meant to represent the metaphorical closet that hides one’s sexuality. Passers-by can post a note to the door with the reasons why they are allies. One note reads “because I want my LGBT friends to be accepted.” Another states, simply, “because love is love.”
“We kind of wanted to take ownership of the door, embrace it,” Shea says. “We [also] wanted to get people thinking about why it’s important to be an ally and what role they play in making LGBT students feeling safe and included on campus.”
The reclaimed closet door, however, was only one part of the LGBT Awareness Week. Other events included a screening of the movie “Pariah,” a discussion by Dr. Katina Sawyer called “Coming Out in the Workplace” and a talk by Aiden Kosciesza entitled “Plastic Boy: Transgender Identity Unpacked.”
However, the week was not without its challenges. “It’s still pretty early in the year to plan and execute a week this big,” explained Danny. Also, some members of the GSC feared being too confrontational and were reluctant to put pressure on other students by asking them questions. Ash, however, held a different view. “I differed and thought confrontation is what is needed to promote change,” he said.
The GSC is also trying to publicize OASIS, a confidential LGBT-only student group led by Fr. Joe Calderone, O.S.A. OASIS is a safe space for LGBT students who do not yet feel comfortable in the GSC. Students can talk about their experiences and receive support to help them with the challenges they may face. According to its website, OASIS features “discussion and dialogue [that] encourage participants to act responsibly in dealing with issues of exclusivity, aloneness and condemnation.”
The GSC is also planning activities that extend far beyond Awareness Week. The GSC is in talks with Haverford College and Bryn Mawr College to plan both social and informational events. Additionally, the GSC and Gender and Women’s Studies are co-sponsoring another talk, entitled “Transitions: The Girlhood of a Bio-Male” by Richard McCann, on Wednesday, Nov. 20 at 4:30 p.m. in the Radnor St. Davids Room.
Of course, regular GSC meetings will also continue after the week.
“Please join the mailing list by emailing the steering committee or Kathy Byrnes,” Kalani says.
As the LGBT Awareness Week wraps up, GSC hopes that they have spread awareness and inspired new allies to step forward. While the week may end and its fliers disappear, the need for LGBT support and allyship will continue to be a very clear and present reality for the University community as it moves forward.