This November marks the 10-year anniversary of the Gender & Sexuality Alliance at Monroe County Community College.
The group was created by Tom Ryder, MCCC’s Student Activities coordinator, along with Jerry Morse, a former MCCC graphic artist.
Ryder said the group was created when a student petition was submitted in Oct. 2009. It became an official club on Nov. 30, 2009.
Ryder said he helped start the club after a student expressed the need for one.
There were six members when the club began. Now, the group has 30 active members.
“While recognized as an official club on MCCC campus, many people do not know MCCC GSA is for the public and community members,” said Jenna Bazzell, assistant professor of English at MCCC and GSA’s co-advisor.
Bazzell said GSA’s mission is to provide a strong, supportive community on campus to increase tolerance and provide resources to LGBTQ students and those wishing to learn more about LGBTQ issues and culture.
“Our main goal is to break down the barriers of stereotypes and misconceptions of the LGBTQ community,” Bazzell said. “The club is open to all open-minded students and community members, including straight allies. We hold events all year long at the main campus.”
GSA hosts events including Pride Prom, Pride Party, Suicide Prevention, World AIDS day, and HIV Testing and Prevention.
Elliot Hurley, a student at MCCC, has been part of GSA for three years. Hurley enjoys events that help people, such as the homeless event that GSA organized in Nov. 2018.
“I’ve done a lot. I’ve presented to MCOP twice, staffed a table with other GSA members at a homelessness event hosted by Monroe County Opportunity Program,” Hurley said.
“We’ve also sponsored HIV/AIDS presentations and table to spread awareness and safety,” Hurley said.
Will Blackwell, co-chair of the GSA and a student at MCCC, joined GSA in March.
Blackwell said he enjoys participating in the events by running the stands to inform people about GSA and meeting new people in the process.
Blackwell said when he first came to campus two years ago, he had trouble finding a local resource for LGBTQ people to meet up. When he found out about GSA through a stand they hosted on campus, he joined immediately.
“I would probably feel less connected to my campus and I would worry more about what people would think about me,” Blackwell said. “The GSA helped me find other people like me at my school and not feel as alone.”
Bazzell said people should know more about the transgender and intersex community.
“The idea is we are creating a more respectful and accepting place on this campus of MCCC but also elsewhere for all people.”
Blackwell said members of this community just want to live their lives normally without having to explain who they are. He said many people ask unnecessary questions regarding his gender and sexuality.
“Are you a boy or a girl? Well, what gender were you before? What were you born?” Blackwell said. “Most transgender people really just want to live their lives as the gender they identify as without any questions.”
“I feel that I am more than just what I identify as. I personally do not think much about my orientation unless I am questioned about it. I would like to live my life as an average straight guy,” Blackwell said.
During the winter 2019 semester, students demanded a meeting with administration officials.
Students conducted the meeting by sharing accounts of discrimination and harassment against LGBTQ students on campus.
Administrators were asked by students to read the first-hand accounts.
Following the meeting, plans were made to add gender-neutral bathrooms in different buildings on campus.
Blackwell said he is extremely happy about the gender-neutral bathroom project just as much as other students.
“I am relieved that I finally have a place to ‘go’ without having to worry about the judgment of others,” Blackwell said. “I know a lot of people that have waited until it was time to go home and used their home bathroom instead of using the ones provided at the school because they were too scared to go into the school restrooms.”
Bazzel said she is proud of students using their communication skills to draw attention to the issues they face.
“I am proud to see students use writing and communicating as a way to have their voices heard in a marginalized space,” Bazzell said. “I am proud to see students use what they have witnessed and experienced as credible and reliable information to change policy and hopefully practice within an academic institution.”
Melissa Grey, co-advisor of GSA and professor of psychology, said being in GSA is magic.
“I remember this student who wrote a song and had her guitar and sang it in front of us,” Grey said. “We turned off the lights, waved our phones in the air back and forth, and in the A Building, we had a little concert.”
“Everyone is creating something new when they’re together, whether it’s a song [or] someone dancing at a pride party,” Grey said. “Everyone is tackling something they’re passionate about.”
“I joined because I had just quit dance, which had been my life for 10 plus years,” Hurley said. “I made an impulse decision to join GSA to try and be involved in something again.”
Hurley said being a member of GSA doesn’t make them different from others.
“People can see it as who I am, but I don’t see myself as my sexuality,” Hurley said. “I’m more than just who I’m attracted to. I have hobbies and things I love and hate and weird quirks.”
“There are more allies on the rise alongside with LGBTQ+ youth as they come out, and it makes me so happy to see that with each generation we’re becoming more and more welcoming of LGBTQ+ people,” Hurley said.