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Come as you are: Chalk the Quad event, campus resources help students express sexuality

Autumn Elniski was afraid that her best friend, a “church person,” wouldn’t accept that she was attracted to women.

But once Elniski finally decided to come out to her, she was surprised by her friend’s reaction.

“I’m like, ‘I like girls’ and she’s like, ‘Finally! I’ve been waiting for you to tell me since high school.’ I’m like, ‘You couldn’t throw a bone my way?’” said Elniski, a senior paper engineering major at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

Elniski was one of many ESF and Syracuse University students who shared their coming-out experiences at Coming Out Stories and Chalk the Quad — an annual event that promotes messages of support for students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. The university has a high ranking for LGBT support due to different resources and initiatives. Still, places such as the LGBT Resource Center are working to improve acceptance on campus.

Unigo, an online college resource site, ranked SU the fifth best LGBT campus “where there’s pride and no prejudice” for 2013, citing the You Are Not Alone initiative, STOP Bias campaign and minor in LGBT studies.

But even with top rankings and campus support resources, LGBT students still face many issues in campus life.

For Chase Catalano, director of the LGBT Resource Center, creating an inclusive and supportive campus environment for LGBT students is a work in progress.

He said he wants Coming Out Stories and Chalk the Quad to create an environment of support, rather than make students feel pressured to come out.

“Coming out is not for everyone. It’s not required,” he said. “It’s not the only way to be part of communities, and so I think our slogan has been kind of, ‘Come out — or don’t.’ We still love you, we still value you and there’s lots of reasons why coming out isn’t tenable for a variety of people.”

Tyler Sliker, program coordinator at the Q Center safe place in Syracuse, said sharing coming-out stories could raise individual self-esteem, as well as build a community by connecting LGBT students across racial and socioeconomic boundaries.

“I would love it if society and communities and universities and what have you would celebrate the fact that queer people exist. I wish that it wasn’t like, ‘I’m OK with it’ or ‘I accept it’ or ‘I support it,’ I wish it was, ‘I love the fact that you’re gay because you’re gay it makes my world better,’” he said. “I love that attitude.”

Sliker said LGBT students face many of the same challenges as other students — such as balancing schoolwork and preparing for a career — but through an LGBT lens.

“Thinking about careers or moving on into the workforce, you have to think about things like, ‘Is my field accepting of queer people? Will I come out at work? Do I come out in classes?’”

Catalano said students often feel the need to choose between their LGBT identity and other social identities.

“Students sometimes feel like they have to choose between their different social identities, so ‘Am I a student with a disability and I’m queer?’” he said. “How often do we intentionally make spaces for students to be simultaneously both. Are we doing our part here for them to feel included as a student of color who’s trans?”

Other students might struggle with their identities if they don’t see themselves within the strict delineations of heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual or transgender, said Roger Hallas, an associate professor of English and director of the LGBT Studies Program.

As he grew up and entered higher education, he said, he witnessed the struggle to expand pride communities to include those who identify as bisexual, transgender or queer. Now, he said, work continues to include those “who might not necessarily identify with ‘L’ or ‘G’ or ‘B’ or ‘T.’”

Midge Scully, a junior illustration major, struggled to find her identity as an asexual woman because asexuality is not always thought of as sexual orientation in common culture.

“But I just was never really sexually attracted to anyone,” she said. “I thought I was broken.”

When Scully came out to her mother, she struggled to accept it and suggested therapy.

“She didn’t get it. She had no idea what asexuality was. I feel like a lot of people don’t,” Scully said.

To continue to help students who identify as LGBT, Hallas said the resource center and University Senate Committee on LGBT Concerns have been working hard to put more gender-neutral restrooms on campus. He said gender-neutral restrooms are crucial if you want to create a truly accessible community on campus.

He also said that the heteronormative cultures of greek life and athletics can sometimes make LGBT or queer students uncomfortable with expressing their identities.

“Particularly since SU Athletics is so important to our campus culture and to the institution,” he said, “I would really like to see more initiatives that address issues around homophobia and transphobia and issues around marginalized genders and sexuality being addressed more fully in the culture of SU Athletics.”

In other ways, faculty and students are still working to increase visibility, accessibility and support for LGBT students on campus. The LGBT Studies Program is one of those initiatives.

“By 2006, we’d established a minor, which is very successful interdisciplinary minor in the college across the university,” said Hallas, director of the program. “Our two core classes are incredibly popular well beyond the students who are taking it for the minor.”

He added that many students enrolled in the program’s courses do not self-identify as LGBT or plan to pursue a minor in LGBT studies, but felt that a deeper knowledge of LGBT history and dynamics would help them in careers such as social work, media or in their personal lives.

Other initiatives to expand LGBT visibility on campus include almost a dozen events throughout October that the LGBT Resource Center has organized for Coming Out Month.

Among these events, Catalano, the director of the LGBT Resource Center, said students should try to create a supportive environment for LGBT students in small, everyday ways.

“Your actions matter,” he said. Students who make or laugh at casual comments can affect those who identify as LGBT, Catalano said.

“I think people just assume that ‘That’s not my friends, that’s not my family, that’s not mattering to me,’ and people hear it,” he said, “And it matters.”

  • Ashley

    Yay for the ace mention!

  • Bostonway

    Why do gays consistently feel the need to publicly announce and even flaunt their sexual orientation? Do you think HS parents and students (at least the hetero kind) visiting SU are going to be impressed by this? Another crazy (and useless) PC event on the SU campus!

  • eak

    Bostonway you clearly do not belong at SU, a place of great diversity and acceptance for ALL kinds of people. It’s too bad YOUR parents didn’t refuse to send you here because it’s evident you were raised by bigots.

  • Bostonway

    It’s too bad YOUR parents didn’t teach you to answer a legit question and to quit the special-treatment BS. By the way, I was rasied to support equal-treatment for any individual or group, no less no more. Apparently yours did not…you demand special attention by group, like the other barking PC groups at SU. So, who’s the bigot? Finally, gays are about 5% of the population. Quit expecting the rest of us to fully embrace you and putting your ‘coming out’ issues in our face. By making it a public thing (e.g., defacing walk-ways), you don’t get respect… you actually get mocked… and you should. Grow up.

  • eak

    Your viewpoint doesn’t add diversity. It’s bigoted. So I suppose you also don’t like when people “deface” (which by the way, CHALK on a walkway is not defacing it) the quad in support of disability pride? Or is it just gays that can’t? It doesn’t matter what percentage of the population a given minority is. That’s the whole point of being a minority. So whatever percentage disabled people are I guess they just don’t matter right? Your comments remind me of people who say, “Why is there no WHITE history month?” Because white people are the majority. The history that’s taught is WHITE history for the most part. If a bunch of straight allies wanted to come chalk the quad about being straight that’d be awesome and we would love it! But they don’t. You know why? Because straight people aren’t discriminated against by people like you for being straight. They are the majority. Coming-out issues are a serious thing. People are afraid to come out because of bigots like you.

  • Bostonway

    1) I get it… only the diversity YOU want is allowed at SU. Does the word hypocrite come mind?! 2) Interesting logic.. only the white hetero majority can be bigots, racist, etc? Hmmm. You need common sense. 3) I want no special treatment for any group. You demand special treatment… and when anyone questions it, we are the bad guys. Gee, who’s the real bigot? 4) I didn’t say I was against gays, I’m against the demand for special treatment and your ‘coming out’ in our face. Get your issues straight(LOL)! Time to grow up.

  • eak

    If people like you are what’s considered “normal,” then I’ll happily be “abnormal.”

    I never said the white hetero majority are the only people that can be bigoted. Please explain to me how chalking the quad and sharing coming out stories to support others’ struggle is special treatment? I clearly stated ANYONE was welcome. Straight people don’t come because like I said, they already automatically have rights that LGBT people don’t based on who they love. So I guess when a group is discriminated against they should just shut up and accept that they are second-class citizens. Change doesn’t happen like that.

  • Bostonway

    So, EVERY minority group should use the SU campus as a open public forum (deface sidewalks, rally, demand SA funds, protest, parades) … gays, blacks, GOP, environmentalists, etc, etc. And the ‘rest of us’ just have to put up with it and embrace it. What a mess! By the way, it is not your RIGHT to do so…SU is a private institution. Finally, it looks like you changed your post AFTER I pointed out your strange claim that minorities can’t be bigots. Hmmm. Bottom line don’t make your sexual orientation a public event. Keep doing so, and you will be mocked.

  • Marc K

    Eak the problem is that a minority does not necessarily equal victims. And honestly some of us have reached a tipping point with the over the top victimhood claimed by every group. Please with your “challenges”, I’m sure if I went into certain neighborhoods I would be discriminated against. It does not help the cause with people have no problems with someone’s lifestyle. As for
    Black history, liberals have suppressed positive black role models for decades in order perpetuate victimhood status. Read American History in Black & White by David Barton.

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