LGBT Alliance Program

You spent four years of high school keeping a part of who you are a secret. You looked forward to going away to college, where things would be different. In college, people would be interested in learning about new ideas and meeting different types of people. It would be in college that you would be able to be yourself. When you arrived at UCSD, however, things were no different than they were at home. Being a member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community was as difficult as it had been before, despite your hopes for a change.

Laura McGann

To combat this problem, Alliance, formed last year by then A.S. President Jeff Dodge, seeks to create a support network of students, faculty and staff who are educated on the issues facing the LGBT community. The program’s steering committee hosts training sessions, usually twice per quarter, to educate those interested in becoming allies. The program has currently hosted six training sessions and is an A.S. council sponsored program.

At the most recent training session on Oct. 14, nine individuals were given a chance to catch a glimpse of a world they might not normally experience, discuss topics relating to the LGBT community, and ask a panel of students questions about identifying as part of the LGBT community.

The training session began with an introduction by Nick Mata, the coordinator of college and student development at Revelle College, who said that the training session’s purpose was to bring “”awareness and appreciation of a group of people who are oppressed in our society.””

Laura McGann

One of the first training exercises had participants create a list of terms often associated with the LGBT community. A list of both positive and negative terms was made, with negative terms overwhelming the list. The history of the term “”faggot,”” as well as “”flaming,”” was discussed.

The derogatory term “”faggot”” comes from the old English term for “”burning sticks.”” At that time in history, when a bundle of sticks was tied together and set on fire, it was referred to as a faggot. Hate crimes involving tying groups of gay men together and lighting them on fire later took on the term.

Other terms were also discussed during the course of the training, including “”queer.”” Though it once had a negative connotation, the word has been reclaimed by the LGBT community to be an inclusive umbrella term used by a variety of members of the community.

Several participants attended the training because they were interested in learning about these types of issues and how to be more supportive of the LGBT community in language and action.

“”This community has been a big part of my life. A lot of my close friends are gay, and I have a sister who is a lesbian,”” said Amy, a John Muir College senior. “”I’ve always been really supportive of the community, and I wanted to learn how to do it better.””

Another student attended not only for his personal interest, but for the sake of student organization Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, of which he is a member.

“”There are a lot of misconceptions between both Christians and the LGBT community as far as each other,”” said Revelle College junior James Stoner Holk.””Inter-varsity used to have a good relationship with the LGBT community, and I want to bring that back together and really make inter-varsity a safe and welcome place for the LGBT community.””

A portion of the training was dedicated to a question-and-answer period hosted by a panel of LGBT students. The students spoke about their lives, including their coming-out experiences at UCSD.

“”My experience in coming out was very liberating for me,”” one panelist said. “”Being who I am without having to hold back felt good.””

Not every panelist had the same positive experience, however.

“”I didn’t know a lot of people who were gay. I didn’t know if my roommates would want me to move out. This is such a big campus, it makes it that much harder,”” said another panelist.

Some of the issues that members of the panel deal with stem from heterosexism: the rampant belief in today’s society that heterosexuality is the superior sexual orientation. This extends to the assumption that all people are heterosexual and is the root of many of the problems faced by members of the LGBT community, including homophobia, the fear of homosexuality.

Examples of heterosexism include asking a man if he has a girlfriend or a woman if she has a boyfriend. These types of assumptions create an environment that is not inclusive to the LGBT community.

To help straight participants understand what it might be like to live in a world of heterosexism and homophobia, Mata read a story that places a heterosexual person in a world of dominant homosexuality. Participants imagined what it might be like to live in a world where they felt they had to hide their sexual orientation. Those partaking imagined sitting in a cafeteria with friends while they discuss a heterosexual couple at the next table with disgust, even as they themselves hide their own heterosexuality. Participants also imagined choosing a major outside their field of interest for fear of being associated with heterosexuality.

The exercise touched many of the participants, who agreed that it raised issues they never had considered before.

The training session not only opened the eyes of straight participants — members of the LGBT community identified with the panelists as well.

“”I am LGBT-identified, so I wasn’t sure if I’d actually learn anything here or not, but I did,”” said Eleanor Roosevelt College sophomore Chris Tipton-King. “”I was really surprised at how much, even as being part of the community, there is to learn, especially the transgender issues.””

Not only were issues of sexual orientation addressed at the training, but issues of gender as well. Lisa Tully, a member of the Alliance Steering Committee, demonstrated the idea of gender with a line between men and women. The problem with the groups men and women, Tully explained, is that there are some people who find themselves in between.

Some people find themselves facing the issue of being transgender, or having a gender that does not correspond with his or her biological sex. A panelist discussed the issues she faces with her own gender identity.

“”I don’t know where I fall … somewhere in the middle … more on the masculine side. It’s hard for me right now because I am questioning my gender,”” said the panelist. She said she has grappled with problems like being confronted in a woman’s restroom for not looking like she should be there. The LGBT Resource Office, in the Old Student Center, currently has one gender-neutral bathroom on campus.

At the end of the training, participants were given contracts they could sign if they wanted to be active members of the Alliance program. Many participants chose to sign and handed in the contracts right after the session.

Both organizers and participants felt the training session went well.

“”I feel [the training] was very successful, especially when the participants are interacting as much as they did tonight — that’s what we want people to do. We want people talking about these issues and getting them out there,”” Mata said.