Student panel speaks out for gay community

A recently formed student group plans to battle stereotypes and “speak out” against discrimination of the gay community.

Meant to engage students in discussions about issues affecting this community, the SpeakOUT team will be visiting classrooms and other groups in order to get students talking.

“A lot of people come to ASU and have never met people of different ethnic backgrounds or sexual orientation,” said Drew Kerwood, one of the program coordinators. “I want them to meet gay people.”

The SpeakOUT team is collaborating with the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning and Allies Services.

It is a structured way to speak to the community and a means to build on the ideas of diversity on campus, said Lisa Pittari, a program coordinator and LGBTQA specialist.

The SpeakOUT team is continuing to recruit interested people and will become more official after current training is complete. It will exist on all four ASU campuses, and training will take place once or twice a semester to promote more involvement, Pittari said.

After training, professors, group leaders, organizers and others interested on campus will have the chance to invite the SpeakOUT team to classrooms or other group environments in order to promote discussion, while providing resources for students interested in learning about the gay community, said Kerwood, who’s a secondary higher education graduate student.

The panel will talk about issues affecting the gay community, whether it be discriminatory, stereotypical, racial or spiritual, Pittari said.

Although the SpeakOUT team is affiliated with LGBTQA Services, it remains a separate and distinct project, solely working in the ASU community.

LGBTQA Services is a new department in Student Engagement. Prior to November 2009, LGBTQA programming was nonexistent, Pittari said. There was a strong need for support of the gay community, and SpeakOUT builds upon the foundation.

Marketing sophomore Jason Graham said he has general viewpoints about the gay community but not as much core knowledge.

“I’m from a rural area in Missouri, so most of my understanding about the gay community has been formulated by television,” Graham said. “I would probably be more standoffish during the student panel discussion, but only because I don’t know a lot about these issues.”

Psychology senior and SpeakOUT member Jasmine Lester said she looks forward to having discussions about identity and the intersection of identities, which she hopes will bring down stereotypes and prevent misrepresentation.

“Being able to identify who you are and to effectively promote these identities is the biggest struggle for a member of the gay community,” Lester said.

An example of a common misconception is the appearance of lesbians.

“A lot of people didn’t know a lesbian could look feminine. People assume lesbians have a distinct appearance,” Lester said. “People look at members of the gay community as more human when they become educated about LGBTQ issues.”

Lester also said the disclaimer of the panel is that the students speaking are not representative of the entire gay community, but rather, are  more representative of individual struggles associated with LGTBQ issues.

The issues that are considered in the student panel will also help promote and relate to discussions within the classroom, Kerwood said. The open discussion allows for a greater learning environment for all ASU students.

The SpeakOUT team is a constructive means to speak out to the campus community and to reflect the diversity within the LGBTQ community as well, Pittari said. The team is for students, by students, in order to promote student leadership and empowerment.

Reach the reporter at asjohn10@asu.edu