Story & Photo by Shaun Beck
Freedom Oklahoma’s sixth annual LGBTQ College Leadership Summit was hosted Feb. 3 at the University of Oklahoma in Norman. The event brought many college students together to learn about LGBTQ rights and how to further LGBTQ inclusion in colleges around the state. The Summit showed LGBTQ individuals how their voices can be heard on their campuses and how allies’ voices can help promote inclusion.
The keynote speaker for the summit was Don Holladay, a law professor at OU, who played a crucial role in the marriage equality decision. .
“We are difference makers,” Holladay said in reference to his part in the historical event.
Holladay continued to discuss where the state of Oklahoma and America as a whole is on LGBTQ rights.
“America is not ready to go back 50 plus years,” Holladay said on the state of new legislation targeted against LGBTQ protections.
However, Holladay’s main points focused on speaking up.
“It’s important for voices to be heard,” he said. “Power yourself individually and collectively.”
The Summit was held at the Jim Thorpe Multicultural Center. Students who pre-registered for the event were provided with one free meal voucher for use at the Couch Restaurants on OU’s campus, as well as a free T-shirt and a tote bag full of goodies from the campus’ offices, which were helping to put on the event.
Attendees had an opportunity to participate in several mini breakout sessions that provided information on how to survive as an LGBTQ college student in housing. Students learned from two of the housing representatives that there are many resources to help LGBTQ students navigate housing safely. The representatives also explained that it is important for students to feel safe where they are living.
A queer sex education class was held as well, in which students explained where STDs come from and how they can be prevented. They also emphasized how to properly apply a condom and how HIV is spread and treated/prevented.
Sarah Hoss, Rose State health sciences professor and Spectrum faculty adviser, described her involvement with LGBTQ rights on and off campus and how she hopes to further the LGBTQ cause.
What made you interested in LGBTQ+ activism?
One of my dearest friends woke me up to the inequalities she faced living in Oklahoma as a married lesbian. (This was before same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide.) It hurt me to see my friend treated as a second-class citizen and so I began speaking up for the LGBTQ community. In 2015, the Oklahoma Legislature introduced 26 anti-LGBT bills and I became actively involved in helping shut them down. Through this, I made a lot of friends and colleagues in the LGBTQ community. When I got hired at Rose full-time, one of my priorities was to make sure there was a LGBTQ student organization on campus.
What influenced you to sponsor Spectrum Alliance Club?
Oklahoma is hostile towards the LGBTQ community. I wanted to advocate and support our LGBTQ youth and being a professor at Rose State gave me that platform.
What was the most influential part of the summit?
I enjoy networking and hanging out with LGBTQ folks and allies from all over Oklahoma. It makes me feel like we’re not alone.
What would you like to see happen to further LGBTQ+ activism within colleges?
I would like to see more visibility. Colleges in Oklahoma may be inclusive and supportive but they are not as visible or vocal in showing their advocacy as they need to be.
Was there a breakout session you enjoyed the most? Why?
I enjoyed the “Know Your Rights” session in which participants shared their experiences of harassment and discrimination. It’s a reminder that problems faced by the LGBTQ community are real and need to be consistently and constantly addressed.
What did you get out of the summit as a sponsor for Spectrum Alliance Club?
I love Spectrum members, and I loved giving them the opportunity to attend. The fact that most people really enjoyed themselves at the Summit made the trip worth its while.
What advice would you like to send to the LGBTQ+ students at Rose who maybe haven’t heard about Spectrum?
We welcome everybody. You don’t have to be a member of the LGBTQ community to join. We’re a group that is accepting and tolerant of all people. Spectrum meetings are a place in which everybody can be themselves.
What Advice would you have for non-LGBTQ+ individuals on how to get involved with LGBTQ+ issues and why is it important?
The LGBTQ community is marginalized in our society and many members face fear of discrimination and violence. Non-LGBTQ individuals have the power and privilege to speak up and create the most change and progress. It is safer for a “straight person” to speak out and be the voice than an LGBTQ person. LGBTQ allies are vital for advocacy and activism.
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