On Jan. 26, students had the opportunity to attend an informational program about college students with alternative sexual and gender identities titled “Deep Cover: LGBTQIA People of Color on HBCU Campuses”.
The presentation, given by Grambling State University alum Destiny McKinney, was designed to inform student leaders about the LGBT (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community and the challenges they may face. The program lasted over two hours, including statistics, terminology, an eye-opening exercise and open speech.
“Anything working towards bringing some type of information to the table when it comes to our differences, bringing a space where people can genuinely be who they are is the bare minimum of what a college community should offer,” said McKinney.
McKinney, 30, is a graduate student at Texas State University as well as an academic coach and allies trainer. Her fervor for the topic began with her desire to step out of her comfort zone to complete a project during her first year of grad school. Having to study a sub-population on campus, she conducted her research on the LGBT community at Texas State. She remains active in the community and now serves on the advisory board of an advocacy group, AdvoCats.
“My main objective when creating my program is to create an environment that facilitates the conversation. I’m trying to push a level of discomfort and ask people to bring their authentic selves to the table so we can have a real talk, good, bad, ugly, or indifferent,” said McKinney, “I think that’s when the best learning happens.”
McKinney was adamant about creating a respectful and safe environment to enable all in attendance to feel secure as they expressed their thoughts and beliefs on a subject that is still considered very taboo. Students introduced themselves by stating their name, major, classification and the pronoun by which they would like to be addressed; an unusual twist to the traditional introduction.
“It was a lot more informal than I thought which made it extremely comfortable and entertaining,” said Debrielle Browder, a junior criminal justice major, “It didn’t seem like anyone felt out of place, everyone participated willingly.”
Students in attendance that identified as lesbian or gay shared their journey or problems they faced every day while some heterosexual students admitted to closed-mindedness in the past or a previous inability to relate to the LGBT community due to lack of knowledge. A slide show presented opened windows for mature dialog, and allowed the group to have deep discussion which touched on topics like whether or not associating the “baby colors”, pink and blue, with an unborn child is tradition or a method of assigning gender identity.
Towards the end of the night, a simple exercise was able to bring things into perspective for some students who had no way to relate to the obstacles that may come with living as LGBT.
Students picked either a red, orange, green, blue or purple star and wrote their name in the center of it. On separate rays, participants were supposed to write the name of a cherished best friend, family member, community, long term hope or dream, and a dream job. McKinney told students their star made them a member of the LGBT community and proceeded to read out different scenarios, based on star color, which simulated the coming out process.
Instructions told students to fold back or tear off rays of their star, which represented becoming disconnected from or completely losing the entity represented on that ray. At the end of the exercise, all students that had picked the red star committed suicide after losing all five rays.