The USF Cultural Centers, in collaboration with the Student Housing and Residential Education (SHARE) and the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), sponsored the second LGBTQ Allies Workshop of the semester on March 6.
Explaining the benefit of the workshops, Assistant Director of Cultural Centers Alejandro Covarrubias said, “It is not that people within the LGBTQ community need support in a sense that it is wrong to identify as such, but support as in a way of navigating and dealing with the oppression and discrimination that they often face due to their identities.”
Covarrubias added that one of the biggest challenges LGBTQ students face on campus is finding a space they feel is safe enough to come out.
“I believe that students who arrive at campus already out and confident about their sexual orientation find their space more easily than the ones that are in a moment of questioning,” he said.
Students and USF staff members met with Residence Director for Loyola Village, Travis Becker, and CAPS psychologist, Molly Zook, to learn how to better support LGBTQ students at USF.
“The role of an Ally is to stand with the community in solidarity and challenge any instance of homophobia, injustice, inequity and heteronormative behavior that they come across, even when it’s not directly affecting them or when it’s not the easiest thing to do,” said Becker.
Yet speaking in favor of another social group requires learning terminology related to that community’s framework.
“It all starts with educating yourself, and people need to take that responsibility seriously. It takes more than just to go out dancing in a gay bar with your friends. People need to learn about the diversity within the gay community. Start with documentaries, articles, books, classes, and start not to worry whether people will wonder if you are gay too,” said Becker.
The participants engaged in different group dynamics to learn about LGBTQ issues. In one exercise, they wrote words that came to mind when they heard terms like “woman,” “man,” “gay,” “lesbian,” and “transgender.” The goal was to raise awareness about the stereotypes that surround issues of sexuality and gender.
Participants were also taught about the concepts “cisgender,” which describes a person whose gender identity conforms to their sex assigned at birth; “genderqueer,” which relates to a person who redefines or refuses their gender and “internalized oppression,” which characterizes the process by which members of a social group accepts the stereotypes associated with their group as a result of social and cultural pressure.
The hosts of the workshop said the development of biases, stereotypes and prejudices is a gradual process. Cultural norms are taught at a young age and are reinforced by institutions that punish deviant behavior through exclusion and violence. Like other members who feel they contradict society’s expectations, those who feel their sexual preference counters societal norms often remain silent.
“There is so much guilt and blame that’s placed into the LGBTQ community,” said Covarrubias, “Their identities are something healthy, beautiful and to be celebrated, but the messages they are receiving about that identity are often very negative and painful.”
Workshop participants were also challenged to question the way they relate to others, especially in terms of homophobia and heterosexism, which are terms that pertain to the belief that everyone is heterosexual or that they should be.
“Allies must be self-reflective”, said Covarrubias. “As they are often part of dominant groups, it is important to be constantly thinking about their own privilege.”
International Relations major Angie Miramontes said she attended the workshop to expand her knowledge of current LGBTQ issues. She said, “I really liked that they raised issues that are not usually approached.”
CAPS therapist Jessica DiVento, said she regularly works with LGBTQ students.
“I came to get extra education, not only for my patients, but for myself and for others around me,” she said.
Covarrubias said there’s a necessity to incorporate more spaces and activities on campus to deal with the interrelations of being LGBTQ and a person of color.
“People from different cultures and ethnicities experience sexuality in very particular and specific ways. The Cultural Centers is working towards creating debates about these issues,” Covarrubias said.
LGBTQ students are encouraged to visit the Cultural Centers on the fourth floor of the UC building and the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) on the lower level of Gillson Hall to seek support.
The last allies workshop of the spring semester will be on April 12, from 2 PM to 5 PM. For more information, visit: usfca.edu/the_intercultural_center/Allies(2).