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December 6, 2005

Interview with a UNC'er about the GLBT-SA
By Trevor

I got an e-mail today from a UNC student looking to ask me a few questions about my time at UNC working as an LGBTIQ student organizer. We did the entire thing over e-mail, so I had a transcript ready. I wanted to share it because I think some of the questions helped me think through what my time at UNC meant to me and what it will probably mean to my future. Many of the questions refer to the GLBT-SA, the undergraduate student organization at UNC Chapel Hill.

Q: What was your major at UNC?
A: Political Science with a minor in Sexuality Studies

Q: What are you doing now?
A: I'm a graduate student at San Francisco State seeking a MA in Human Sexuality.

Q: What position have you held with the GLBTSA or LGBTQ at UNC?
A: When the GLBT-SA was initially formed in the Spring of 2002, I served as Activism Co-Chair for the organization. From the Fall of 2002 to the Spring of 2004 (my sophomore and junior years), I served as GLBT-SA Co-Chair. For most of that time period, I also served as webmaster for the organization.

Also, during my sophomore year, I founded what was then called the North Carolina Unity Conference. During my senior year, we changed the name of the conference to the Southeast Unity Conference to reflect its growth in attendees from other states in the Southeast. I served as Director of that event for my Sophomore, Junior, and Senior years at UNC.

Q: How long were you affiliated with this group?
A: I was working for the GLBT-SA throughout all four years at UNC.

Q: How did you get involved?
A: The group was founded out of Pamela Conover's course in sexual identity politics, POLI 73 (officially known as "The Politics of Sexuality"). I was asked to serve on the board by its founding President, Alice Newton.

Q: Before coming to UNC, did you know that you wanted to become involved in something like this?
A: I made a decision before I came to college to be openly gay, but I never truly anticipated the role I would play in campus activism. I had only done very minor work in the area before coming to Chapel Hill, as I had grown up in the conservative Southeast area of Charlotte.

Q: What are some of the things that you feel leads ppl to become active in this type of organization?
A: I believe that the first and foremost reason that people come to GLBT-SA meetings is that of wanting to belong. A great many UNC students come to Chapel Hill from conservative areas across the state. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people are often marginalized and made to feel as though their desires and lives are sinful, abnormal, and shameful. This is exasperated in the conservative South where "traditional values" -- those of the fundamentalist Christian right -- are considered to be the norm.

Also, I think students come with a desire to lead and be involved in something that creates positive change in LGBTIQ communities. There are frankly very few opportunities to do so before many students come to college, and I think many students come to UNC with a lot of pent up energy and a healthy dose of angst.

Q: What are the things that you feel were most influential for you in becoming a part of (founding) this group at UNC?
A: As the only openly gay person in my high school, I knew what it meant to be considered a second class citizen. I had friends in high school who were gay but couldn’t come out because their parents had indicated that to do so would be a one-way ticket to the street corner. However, I don’t want to make it sound as though I am saddened or regretful of the climate in which I grew up. It is thanks to the homophobia and heterosexism that I was enveloped in growing up that I was able to become so politically aware and active in different movements. Had I lacked these experiences, I probably wouldn't be as interested in different oppressions -- not just homophobia -- like racism, sexism, and class oppression.

Q: What are some of the things that you did outside of UNC that are related to this group (civil rights, social groups, etc.)?
A: Most of my work during my college years was related to UNC – my many roles in the organization kept me quite busy. However, between my junior and senior years at UNC I spent a summer in Boston, Massachusetts working for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. It was the summer of 2003 and there was so much happening politically for LGBTIQ Americans at the time. On June 26 of that year, the Supreme Court issued its ruling in the case of Lawrence v. Texas, which ruled that sodomy laws were unconstitutional based on a Constitutional right to privacy. I helped organize a mass rally in Boston that summer (if you Google my name, 100s of hits will appear from the publicity for that rally in Copley Square). Also, 15-year old black lesbian Sakia Gunn was brutally stabbed to death in Newark, New Jersey and the NGLTF did some work organizing a Boston youth community response to that heinous hate crime. Finally, it was the summer that preceded the Massachusetts Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Goodridge v. Massachusetts Department of Public Health, which ruled that same-sex couples had the right to marry based on the state constitution. I was lucky to sit in on several meetings in which we planned the response to the decision. To my surprise (and their credit), everyone at the table expected a positive decision. When the decision was released in the Fall of that year, I knew I had been a part of something historically important.

Q: How about some of the things that you do not related to this group (do you play a sport, are you involved in religious groups, or in an environmental group pr something of that sort)?
A: My first and foremost priority at UNC was the GLBT-SA and the Unity Conference. I had no time or energy to devote to other interests.

Q: Where do you see this group going in the future?
A: This is increasingly hard to say as the time between my graduation and the present increases. I only can say that I hope the organization sticks to the principles that we purposefully injected into the Constitution. I'm referring here to those principles of being a politically motivated organization that is interested in working to end not just homophobia, but also other oppressions such as sexism, transphobia, racism, and class oppression. We intentionally put quite a bit of language to that effect into the Constitution to preserve accountability in the future once the founding members had left.

Q: Is there anything that you would have liked to change about the movement here (more or less focus on something, etc.)?
A: Had you asked me this question when I was still at UNC, I could have probably rattled off a dozen things I would like to see changed about the GLBT-SA and campus LGBTIQ politics in general. However, the more I see and experience campus politics elsewhere, the more I realize that the GLBT-SA is doing some of the most cutting-edge, radical work in the entire country. I don't think any other college LGBTIQ organization can claim the kinds of successes in size and activity that the GLBT-SA can claim. No other organization I'm familiar with organizes a regional conference, a biannual drag show, publishes its own magazine, and still manages to organize a whole host of other activities.

Q: Is there any other movement that you can see yourself being involved in, in the future, if you ideally speaking had enough time and energy?
A: My life's work is in the LGBTIQ socio-political movement. I'm interested in connecting with other social movements, but I'm here to stay.

Q: What were your personal goals for yourself, as they related to this group? Did you achieve them?
A: I never really set out goals that I could achieve or not achieve. Most of my work was really made up as I went along. My politics changed as the years went on -- so too did my aspirations for the GLBT-SA. I'm most proud of two things: my work directing the Southeastern Unity Conference and my work with the nation's oldest campus LGBTIQ publication, LAMBDA. I could have done things differently and not made a few mistakes along the way, but that would have required that I knew the answers ahead of time -- and I don't think any organizer can attest to being so omniscient.

Q: Was the group making progress towards them?
A: Yes, I’m quite sure that the GLBT-SA has done an immense out of work towards creating a campus climate that is informed and accepting of LGBTIQ people.

Q: If so, then how so?
A: I can remember my first year at UNC feeling incredibly uncomfortable by the sheer lack of open dialogue on LGBTIQ issues on campus. If the GLBT-SA has done anything, it has been exponentially increasing that dialogue. Illustrative of this fact is a small rally we had my first-year at UNC to respond to a hate crime on campus. I think maybe 20 people attended the small march. My senior year, however, when a student was attacked on Franklin Street because of his sexuality more people gathered in the pit for a speak-out against the crime than I have ever seen before. The Chancellor was present! It was phenomenal. That could never have happened my first year. GLBT-SA created the infrastructure to respond efficiently and effectively to such incidents.

Q: What are the ways in which you think your Parents and or family had an influence in your involvement? Were they supportive?
A: When I came out to my parents as gay at the age of 14, one of the first things they responded with was a concern that I was going to get AIDS and die. The year was 1997 and the HIV/AIDS epidemic among gay men was considerably worse than it is today in 2005. However, I still knew that these kinds of stereotypes were hurtful and factually incorrect. From that day on, I wanted to work to end this kind of stereotyping. After a great many conversations and a bit of family therapy to boot, they became much more supportive of my identity and I think their willingness to support my graduate studies in Human Sexuality illustrate that.

Q: Were you involved in a group like the GLBTSA or LGBTQ before coming to UNC?
A: I was just barely involved with a youth group in Charlotte called "Time Out Youth." However, I find that many LGBTIQ youth groups treat everyone who comes through their doors as victims and as troubled youth. I was out by the time I came to Time Out, and I didn't need the kind of support they were offering. Other than Time Out, there weren't any opportunities to be involved in LGBTIQ organizing in Charlotte of which I was aware.

Q: Was there any influence (person, event, etc) here that convinced you to become involved?
A: During my first year at UNC I lived in Granville Towers. At some point during my Spring semester, my suitemate and his friends attempted to break down my door while yelling homophobic and threatening epithets. I moved out into the campus dorms shortly there-after for the remainder of the semester. This instilled in my mind the real physical danger that LGBTIQ people face, even on college campus.

Q: As you were growing up, were there influences from your church, youth groups, sport groups, celebrities, sports stars, or some other type of media that you feel might have had an influence on your involvement now?
A: As I've said before, I occasionally attended an LGBTIQ youth group in Charlotte. I only credit that organization to my interests and involvement now because, I think, they were characteristic of one of the single biggest failures of our socio-political movement. They didn't teach us LGBTIQ history or attempt to give us something to believe in. All of the youth groups that I’m familiar with nationally are interested in preventing the kids coming from killing themselves. They're often run by well-intentioned heterosexual social workers -- which may be nice, but it's just not effective. I think that is a massive failure and is the driving cultural force behind the surreal lack of knowledge of LGBTIQ history among young LGBTIQ people today. I think that's why we're seeing so many young LGBTIQ people who are completely disinterested in activism and politics -- they have no knowledge of the history that precedes us to make them feel compelled to get involved.

Q: Last Question. If there was one message that you could get everyone on the world to really listen to, what would it be?
A: Homophobia, sexism, racism, class oppression, trasnsphobia, and other forms of oppression are connected. You cannot ever end one without attacking them all. After all, no one is singularly gay, black, poor, or female. We are combinations of many different kinds of identities. It takes asking ourselves the question that Durham-based activist Mandy Carter instilled in me, "Justice or Just Us?"

PERMALINK | Posted at 5:33 AM | Post a Comment (0)


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