By Jack Despeaux
Student Life Editor
January, February, March, Gaypril, May. That is what this semester’s calendar will look like at Washington College. The LGBTQ community is strong at WC, and the members of the community are ready to have their voices heard like never before.
Junior Cody Bistline, intercultural ambassador representing LGBTQ students and member of EROS, said that, because National Pride Month is June, and students aren’t on campus in June, LGBTQ students have decided to have “pride condensed in the month of April.”
These students have organized under the banners of Encouraging Respect of Sexuality and Trans and Non-Conforming Gender Organization, to plan the month of “Gaypril.”
Gaypril has been designed to hold a “variety of events in April that celebrate and lift the voices of anyone who is queer or trans,” said Tya Pope, assistant director of intercultural affairs and George’s Brigade Scholarship Program coordinator.
Pope’s work involves making sure that students are able to be comfortable on campus no matter their identity. She does this with events like Gaypril, but also with the Diversity Dinners she provides to students throughout the semester.
“The thought [for the dinners] was that we would create a space for students, faculty, and staff that identify as LGBTQ to come together to discuss issues that they may be experiencing on campus or in life,” she said.
“There are some people who aren’t necessarily comfortable with the concept of being out,” Bistline said. “There are people who come from cultures where it would not be safe if they were to come out, but the campus should be a safe enough space… for people to become comfortable with their identities.”
The existence of a safe space on campus has become very important to students within the LGBTQ community, as the safe spaces allow anonymity for members and give them a space to vent, Pope said.
LGBTQ students are given the opportunity to discuss problems they encounter on campus that people who are not in the community may take for granted. Pope said these problems include the proper use of pronouns, gender inclusive bathrooms—and the bathrooms being identified as such— and the consequential navigation around campus.
The Diversity Dinners are also held in locations that are only revealed to those attending the meetings, so that the members can remain anonymous.
Safe spaces are available for students who identify within other communities as well. Bistline said there are also Black Student Union and Hillel Diversity Dinners hosted by Pope.
Pope, EROS, and TANGO have planned events for LGBTQ students to attend and celebrate their pride.
The Diversity Dinners occur multiple times a semester, and Pope said that there are usually about ten people at the dinners. There are also guest speakers, as Sarah Feyerherm, vice president of Student Affairs and dean of students; Ted Lewis, executive director of Side by Side; Dr. James Hall, associate professor of English, director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House; and Pope herself have held discussion on topics regarding growing up LGBTQ, or the work that activists like Lewis do and its importance today.
Pope said the dinners are usually catered by ACME and Luisa’s Cucina Italiana.
“[We] just talk about life, what it’s like to be queer, trans, etc. on campus,” Pope said. “It’s usually quite positive, and people feel safe.”
Bistline highlighted other events to celebrate the LGBTQ community, such as the Drag Ball that occurred last semester, and the potential for a reading with the Poetry Club.
While still in the process of planning, Bistline said there will be a kickoff dinner to begin Gaypril, and there may be a speaker on campus who may attend a Diversity Dinner, and provide a talk open to campus.
A goal of Gaypril is to “spread concepts beyond the standard audience,” Bistline said.
Later in the month, there will be a Day of Silence scheduled for April 27 on campus. The Day of Silence will involve students who will stay silent for the day to spread awareness about members of the LGBTQ community who cannot speak for themselves and their identity openly.
The following day, there will be the Chris Miller Color Run. Bistline said that the color run will support and help fund a scholarship in honor of former class of 2014 student and EROS President Chris Miller.
“Biases exist, as a result not all people that are LGBTQ are out, [and] some feel that being out at WC or at home is not the best decision for them. That is why groups like [EROS and TANGO] exist to help support students who are unsure,” Bistline said.
Pope and Bistline encouraged students to become educated on the issues LGBTQ students face, and to attend events even if they are not LGBTQ.
“Even if someone doesn’t particularly believe or support someone’s identity, one needs to be able to work across difference. As students moving toward the professional realm this is an integral skill,” Bistline said. “If you consider yourself an ally, you should ask yourself, ‘How am I showing that I’m an ally?’”
“Just be mindful,” Pope said. “There are so many students who are out but there are so many who aren’t yet, the things we say and do make a difference.”
Pope encouraged students who have ideas to help benefit the LGBTQ community, and other identities, to reach out to her. Pope’s office is in the Intercultural Affairs Office in Caroline, and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org