Although new, PCCC’s LGBTQ+ Allies club is blossoming into a full, thriving club that simultaneously provides a safe space for its members while educating and spreading awareness.
For decades, Gay Straight Alliances (also known as “GSAs”) have provided safe spaces in which LGBTQ+ students could explore and express their identities and thoughts.
According to a publication by Charlotte J. Patterson in 2012, “membership in a GSA, participation in the activities of a GSA, and even perhaps the mere existence of a GSA at a school are all linked with positive outcomes for LGBT students.”
The first ever GSA was the Student Homophile League established in 1969 at Columbia University. According to a 2017 article published by Moira Phippen using the research of R.M. Dilley, this organization did not have its University’s approval, but “by 1970, over 200 similar organizations existed at campuses across the country.”
The lack of school support given to the Student Homophile League was not an isolated incident. Historically, GSAs have had to go through many battles to exist, both social and legal. In court cases as recent as 2015, students have fought for their right to have a GSA. LGBTQ+ Allies member and Journalism major Katherine Avila, 18, said her own high school GSA was subject to vocal disapproval. Stickers given to teachers that said “Safe Space Here” to signify that that teacher’s classroom was open and safe for LGBTQ students had been cut up by one teacher.
On our campus, the LGBTQ+ Allies club began because students felt like there was no place and visibility on this campus and wanted to create that visibility and space for themselves. Encouraged by who they would eventually ask to become their advisor, Simaza Ishak, the coordinator for the Center for Violence and Prevention, they began the club. According to Ishak, serving as the advisor has been a “pleasure and honor.” Ishak recognized the importance of visibility, support, and empowerment of LGBTQ+ identified students.
She regularly brings in identified administrators, faculty, and staff allies to meetings to introduce to the students.
This practice is just one of the many ways our LGBTQ+ Allies club attempts to create a healthier and more open environment at PCCC.
The club began in the Fall semester of 2017 . The current president, Michelle Chacon, a nineteen-year-old Biology major, became president in the Fall semester of 2018. Elections take place before the club’s annual Pride Prom, where the newly elected officers are announced.
Although Chacon is not a part of the community, she was inspired to make a change on campus by a transgender friend she had. It’s “definitely out of her comfort zone” for her as an ally who previously didn’t know much, but she’s learning a lot about this community and hopes others learn as much as she does.
The club is certainly making moves. At an event at Pratt Institute in which fi ft een schools were represented, PCCC’s LGBTQ+ Allies club was one of only three schools to be invited to participate in a professional panel in which Chacon would discuss her experience being in a leadership in an LGBTQ+ club.
Psychology major Ashley Olazabal, 19, serves as the club’s vice president and Chacon’s right-hand woman. Although she did not originally run for this position, she has found the work of the position to be gratifying and could only wish for the club to be doing “everything we’re doing now times ten!”
The club holds a variety of events with speakers or informative presentations. Moreover, the club has volunteered and/or worked with organizations and events.
Edwin Nava, a nineteen year-old Humanities major and the club’s head of PR, discussed how it was his job to create and spread the flyers for each of these events. He emphasized the importance of LGBTQ+ clubs for “people who feel targeted and alone and feel unsafe in being themselves.”
All members shared the common goal of creating a safe space for those in the LGBTQ+ community and educating people. Chacon stressed that “LGBTQ individuals are not going through easy things—especially if they are not necessarily gay, lesbian, or bisexual.”
The LGBTQ+ Allies club was cultivated as a space for its members to exist without worrying about labels. Members can have fun, be themselves, but also learn more about the identities of others and, perhaps, themselves.
Though members of the LGBTQ+ Allies club are diverse in all facets of their identities, they are all united by the impact this club has had on them. Members described themselves as “outspoken”, “looking to inspire others”, and as Business major Andrea Denson, 28, joined in the Fall of 2018 to support friends who were members. Not only has the club helped her to learn more about those in the LGBTQ+ community, the bravery displayed by members who were open about their sexuality and identity made her “more confident in [her] personality.” As a member of the LGBTQ community herself, Thurman knows that visibility helps students maintain connection and that being a part of a minority group can alienate students. “I know visibility could have helped when I was in college, so I’m very committed to building on the work that has been done.” If you want more information on Charlotte J. Patterson’s book, it’s name is Schooling, Sexual Orientation, Law, and Policy: Making Schools Safe for All Students.