By LUDOVICA PIZZICHELLI
This semester, after John Cabot University’s LGBTQ Alliance lay dormant as a result of its entire board graduating, it was revived by freshman Katie Kehoe. Kehoe has always felt like an ally to the community and began in middle school to challenge the negative stereotypes formed in schools against LGBTQ people. When asked what spurred her to restore the Alliance, she said, “Having a GSA (gay-straight alliance) is important to any university. Whether the organization is the most popular club on campus or if its just a few friends who meet once a week, its presence is important. I believe that we can be a valuable resource to our community by answering any questions and offering support.”
With her leadership, the Alliance has been newly built from the ground up based on three important values: building community, understanding, and support.
One of the core values of the club is the importance of creating a community. JCU is an institution where students from all backgrounds congregate to not only further their education and reinforce their goals, but to meet others from around the world and share ideas and cultures. The Alliance is committed to furthering a community surrounding both LGBTQ students and staight and cisgender students, bringing together people from different backgrounds to learn from each other. As stated in its constitution, the club “embraces the idea that person-to-person interaction is essential in the establishment of an open, accepting, and inclusive environment or campus that allows the free expression of ideas.” This standard is one the club is dedicated to holding itself to and hopes to create strong bonds both with students and other clubs. According to Heads Up Educational Counseling, there are 4,000 alliance groups in American schools, ranging from high schools to universities, and the Alliance is ready to build its own community at John Cabot.
A second principle of the Alliance is attention towards building understanding within the JCU community. Often, people outside of the LGBTQ community are hesitant to ask questions about LGBTQ issues or vocabulary definitions, which is why the club strives to serve as a forum for discussion, delivering education and awareness. As of yet, the Alliance has hosted two important meetings since its relaunch: a session to discuss vocabulary and terms and a presentation on LGBTQ activism.
The Alliance pushes for these meetings to reinforce understanding within JCU, both by raising awareness and answering questions that students may have felt embarrassed or out of place in posing before. The club asks people from all walks of life to attend, because you never know when you could learn about an issue or a perspective which you would never have thought of on your own. Understanding LGBTQ issues and terminology is essential in furthering the rights and safety of trans and non-heterosexual people, both within JCU and beyond. As J.K. Rowling wrote, “Understanding is the first step to acceptance, and only with acceptance can there be recovery.” These meetings are an opportunity for students to learn more about the LGBTQ community and how to support it in a space free of judgment and full of valuable resources.
Another significant foundation the Alliance is built on is that of creating a source of support for students, especially for those struggling with being accepted at home.
Throughout this academic year, both in the United States and beyond, there has been a surge in LGBTQ teen suicides. As mentioned in an article of The Matthew on LGBTQ media representation, LGBTQ teens are 40% as likely to attempt suicide at one point in their lives. Within the past month there has been another victim, young trans man and activist Blake Brockington. Though he was only 18, young adults in their early 20s are nevertheless susceptible to suicide and depression as a result of lacking acceptance. Even when a student is in university, like JCU, and perhaps away from family, lack of acceptance beyond the household is still a pervasive and negative force in a student’s life. “It is important for safe spaces like The Alliance to exist so that even if individuals are uncomfortable joining, they understand that there are people in the school who support them and recognize their struggle,” Kehoe said.
For this reason, the Alliance is particularly adamant about creating a support group and acting as a “safe place to seek opinions of other students and find people willing to listen to one another.” The Alliance thrives on inclusivity and maintains an open door policy and outside resources for students. As a result, on April 1 the club hosted its first “Share Your Story” evening, where students met at the Gianicolo Residence to casually discuss their own stories, whether it be about the struggles of being gay or trans, about coming out, or about learning their friends or family members were LGBTQ. We value this event very much because it is an opportunity to open up about our respective experiences and form ties with other people that may have undergone something similar. It builds community as well as support and understanding, and holds on to a “vegas” policy –what is said in this event stays in this event– to encourage students to share their stories without fear of others outside knowing their private information. Not only will it serve as an opportunity to offer fellow students support, but also to further the community the club is seeking to promote.
Although it is a still a newly-initiated club, the Alliance is ready to embrace JCU students and is always accepting new members, whether they are part of the LGBTQ community, are strong allies, or are just wanting to learn more about us. This year, April 17th is the Day of Silence, a day wherein people around the world take a vow of silence for the day to commemorate those LGBTQ people lost or forced into silence because of who they were and continue to be. Because this year the day falls on a Friday, the Alliance will be hosting it on Thursday April 16th. Afterwards, there will be an event called Breaking the Silence, a party to end the day and celebrate the LGBTQ community and the community at John Cabot. Anyone and everyone is welcome to attend to enjoy a fun and relieving evening. The Alliance has many plans for the upcoming semesters at JCU and is asking for a lot of support from the John Cabot community to build a community, understanding, and support for JCU students.