The Ole Miss LGBT community kicked off the semester with a celebration of identity, support and intersectionality. Students, faculty and staff came together for the third annual “Pride Camp: A Queer Celebration” hosted by the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies Saturday morning in Bryant Hall.
The goal of Pride Camp was to provide networking opportunities and information about campus resources to students who are members of the LGBT community.
The event was sponsored by UM Pride Network, the Center for Inclusion & Cross Cultural Engagement, the Associated Student Body, the Department of Student Housing, OUTLaw, LGBTQ Alumni Association, Queer People of Color and the William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation.
Brandi Hephner LeBanc, vice chancellor for student affairs, spoke on the importance of support and working toward a better future with less intolerance.
According to a 2017 Human Rights Campaign survey of LGBT youth, 92 percent of respondents talk about how they hear negative messages about their identities. Hephner LeBanc said she wants students to know they have support in dealing with such negativity.
“At this institution, you may hear some of those things, and it’s important for you to understand that there is support here to work through that,” she said.
ASB President Dion Kevin III emphasized ASB’s desire to make LGBT students feel comfortable and content in Oxford.
“We want to recognize how important it is to feel welcomed wherever you are,” Kevin said. “We want to make sure you feel like this is your home.”
During an icebreaker, students stood up when their corresponding letters from the “LGBTQ” acronym were called. Professor Jaime Harker reminded attendees that it’s OK not to fit into one category.
“Sometimes you’re still feeling out what seems right to you, so don’t feel like you have to know everything,” Harker said.
The first panel consisted of student representatives, who shared advice gained from their personal experiences at Ole Miss.
Daniel Dubuisson, president of UM Pride Network, said he was “reluctant to break out of his niche” as a freshman until he found the word “fag” carved into his dorm room door, which prompted him to “break out” and find a support system. This support system, he said, consisted of not only other students and organizations but also influential professors.
The student panelists also listed the professors they have found to be understanding and supportive. Many students agreed that seeing an “ALLIES” sticker on a professor’s office door helps to ease their mind when approaching a professor.
Kevin said in his English class this semester, the professor included a section on her syllabus talking about how the classroom is an allied community. Kevin said he wants to push more resource language like this on syllabi all across campus.
“You shouldn’t have to go to their office hours and luckily see a sticker on their door,” Kevin said. “You should be able to, as soon as you start your class, be aware that that professor is there for whatever you need, so we’re pushing to have some more structured language on there saying this is an allied community.”
The panel also discussed how to be a better ally to the LGBT community. Jaime Cantrell, assistant professor of English, said that being an ally is an action not an identity.
Cantrell quoted black lesbian feminist warrior poet Audre Lorde, “It is not the responsibility of the oppressed to teach the oppressor of their mistakes. So if you want to be a better ally claim that action not that identity and make use of these resources that are in place and available to you.”
Kevin said he’s working on being an ally and wants to increase intersectionality on campus.
“There’s a huge blind spot on campus among students that don’t know a lot,” Kevin said. “People think there’s just gay and straight, so I think it’s important that student advocacy groups partner with other organizations and show intersectionality to make sure that blind spot is filled.”
Ashlign Shoemaker, who represented gay members in Greek life, said people are often confused by her identification as bisexual and don’t understand how she can be attracted to both sexes.
“It’s not like a half and half thing. It’s a spectrum,” Shoemaker said of sexuality. “It doesn’t have to be so concrete and mathematical. It’s fluid, like anything else in life.”
Katrina Caldwell, vice chancellor for diversity and community engagement, led participants in a workshop concentrating on the topic of intersectionality. Caldwell compared intersectionality to looking at a birdcage.
“Oppression, privilege and power inform our identities,” Caldwell said. “If we’re only looking at identity as one spoke on a bird cage, we might not see the whole cage because we’re only focusing on that one area.”
Participants also reflected upon which cultural identities shape their lives the most.
“Regardless of where my intersections meet, my environment should make me feel included,” Caldwell said. “If someone’s not included, we need to have a conversation. Are there other parts of their identity that we’re not accounting for?”
Representatives from the student health center and the University Counseling Center addressed previous tensions between nurses and LGBT patients.
Dr. Travis Yates, director of the university’s health services, said it is the health center’s last intention to make students feel like they’re being judged when being questioned by nurses.
“These personal questions are for your health care and no other reason whatsoever,” Yates said. “If there’s a question that you don’t want to answer, just don’t answer it.”
Yates said the health center has introduced a new form in which students answer questions, eliminating the need for nurses to verbally ask students about their sexuality and gender.
In the closing remarks, Cantrell encouraged students to dispel Southern gay myths and “stick it out” in Mississippi.
“Think about all the Southern queers who stuck it out and didn’t participate in a great gay migration to New York or San Francisco,” Cantrell said. “You are here – use your voice to righteously defend a marginalized group or support a fellow human being.”
Alena Vu, a freshman international studies and German major from Pass Christian who identifies as pansexual, said she didn’t expect the university to have such a supportive LGBT community.
“I’ve met some people who were gay, but I never actually realized there were that many people here,” Vu said. “It feels really nice to know that there are other people that are queer, too, so I’m happy that I can have someone to relate to.”