Coming to college as a member of the LGBTQ+ community is often a heavy burden for students, even for those who are out of the closet. Some come with an idea of who they are, and others have no clue how to even start the process of exploring and understanding their sexuality or identity.
It takes weeks for a new student to understand and be comfortable in a new atmosphere, and coming to terms with one’s true self is a lifelong process. Therefore, Elizabethtown College and its community’s response to students who realize they are a member of the LGBTQ+ community is crucial to them.
Junior Derek Burton has been with Etown Gay-Straight Alliance (Allies) for three years now. For Burton, the LGBTQ+ community on campus has offered him, and so many other students, the opportunity to unite with commonalities.
Burton says that he has met some of the most wonderful people in his time with Allies and has become so much more comfortable with his own identity. He has developed from someone who was unable to find love for himself due to his sexual identity into someone who loves himself totally and completely; this is due in no small part to the community that has been built and maintained by Etown Allies.
As a junior, I have had the chance to see the campus climate and attitude toward the LGBTQ+ community grow positively in the past years. Allies was established many years before I became a student and has been laying important groundwork for the LGBTQ+ community and its allies that are seen presently. Today, we see professors, staff and administrators stand up for LGBTQ+ rights more than ever. We see more gender neutral bathrooms and residential floors or in the Independent Living Units. We see more professors and staff asking students for their pronouns, which is a simple gesture of respect between one another.
As we acknowledge and are thankful for this positivity that was created through the sacrifice and advocacy of past and present Allies members, we also recognize the hard work that many professors and staff have put into the strengthening of diversity on campus and into supporting the LGBTQ+ community and its allies.
I am always eager to see how the new class of students will have an impact on the culture and atmosphere toward our community, and in the past years I can say that while I continue to see aggression on many levels toward minority communities on campus, I have also felt a wider sense of welcome and acceptation by students.
However, there are challenges that we still face. Despite improvements, the college environment can still be challenging for many people who are uncomfortable. Many are still afraid of coming out or showing support for fear of repercussions from the members of the College community; and experience in the past has showed us that in tough times the College’s response to bias related incidents has not been comforting to students.
As we talk about diversity, let us remember that we still have a long way to go in improving the understanding between communities at the school, but dialogue and a continuation of development is necessary in the building a strong community for all. The fight for LGBTQ+ rights is still in progress at this school and in communities around the world.