On Tuesday evening, student members of the University’s queer community gathered at the top of Allbritton for a Queer Community Open Forum. Organized by juniors Paige Hutton, Elijah Jimenez, and José Luis Sánchez, the forum worked to bring to light issues within campus queer spaces, and to specifically address marginalized groups within the queer community.
“I feel like with a lot of the [queer] spaces [on campus], I don’t feel comfortable inhabiting them, because they are overwhelmingly white,” Jimenez said. “And when I go to those spaces I kind of have to cut off my entire black identity to assume this white gay male culture.”
Jimenez and Sánchez are both Queer Resource Interns, acting as facilitators and liaisons between different LGBTQ+-centered groups on campus. They, along with Hutton, wanted to expand their role by fostering a sense of activism within the community, and making more students aware of activist causes for queer and trans* rights.
“[The idea] came from a discussion with another student leader, where they thought there wasn’t anything left to do for the queer community, which is why it’s so dead now,” Sánchez said. “And that got me extremely furious, not at them personally, but at the fact that [the community feels] this way, and the fact that spaces on campus don’t feel safe, especially for queer students of color.”
Sánchez and Jimenez also brought up trans* and asexual students as examples of those who do not feel safe in the University spaces generally designated for queer people.
At the forum, Hutton, Jimenez, and Sánchez introduced themselves (along with Owen Christoph ’18, the house manager for Open House) before presenting to a room of several dozen students with questions on a projector including: “What have you heard about the Queer community at Wesleyan? What parts of your identity did you feel were not supported or were misrepresented? What events/resources do you think would be helpful to your experience here at Wesleyan?” Students broke off into small groups before coming back together for a larger discussion.
Several students expressed the desire for spaces on campus that catered towards particular intersectional identities (queer and POC, queer and mentally ill, etc.). Before the forum, Sánchez described the difficult balance of creating those spaces while also maintaining the larger LGBTQ+ community.
“Everyone wants to be together, and for certain issues, that’s really important, especially when everyone within the group is being represented,” he said. “But also…because people are not necessarily on the same page, and not saying they have to be, because everyone is allowed their own opinions, but at the same time, those opinions, or even those ideas, are oppressing other people within this campus, or even the world at large.”
Hutton added that perceptions of hook-up culture on campus complicate matters of queer identity.
“I feel that hook-up culture a lot is often very white and straight,” she said. “And even when there are queer party-type things, or queer people that people are talking about like, ‘I like them’…they’re striving to date this white queer cisgender person.”
Other students present at the forum echoed those sentiments. They stressed the necessity for separate activism and support groups on campus to differentiate the issues of individual queer students from the systematic problems facing the community at large. A few attendants, including Christoph, suggested daytime events and other ways for queer students to spend time together in a non-sexualized setting.
“I’m working on getting a screening of ‘Paris Is Burning’ at Open House,” Christoph said, referring to the 1990 documentary about queer/trans* communities of color involved in New York ball culture.
Other suggestions included dinners with queer faculty and arts-and-crafts-focused events, similar to Open House’s Queer Ice Cream Social and Collage-Making event hosted earlier this month. This weekend, the Queer Resource Interns plan on hosting a vigil, in collaboration with student identity groups Ujamaa and Ajua Campos, in remembrance of the Pulse nightclub shooting victims.
Many of those present at the forum were first-years, and Jimenez, looking back on his own experience as a first-year, hoped that the weight of expectations wouldn’t interfere with students enjoying their time at the University.
“[Do not] expect your experience, your college experience, to be the cisgender, heteronormative thing that is projected so often on TV and in the media,” he said. “I feel like that was something I had to come to terms with. My experience as a queer person on campus is not going to be [the same as] my friends who are heterosexual. It’s just not the same…. I think it’s good to know that that’s okay.”
Hutton emphasized the importance of individuals voicing their opinions within the community, regardless of class year, and being aware of more activism work that could be done to improve queer life on campus.
“Just expect more, ask for more,” she said. “Always interrogate what you’re thinking. If you’re thinking, ‘I’m done, everything’s great,’ think about that and why you’re thinking that, and how you can broaden your understanding of queer justice.”