Photo and story by Daniel Shaw-Remeta / Contributing Writer
A plenary discussion, which addressed personal reflections on “bridging the divide,” was held Saturday in MTSU’s College of Education Building as a part of the 2018 LGBT+ College Conference.
Panelists and audience members discussed their experiences with divisions within the LGBT+ community based on aspects of their identity and suggested ways to bridge divides in order to build a more cohesive and welcoming community. The discussion was a part of a three-day college conference that addressed the topic of bridging the divide between the LGBT community and others who might not be accepting or understanding of what it means to be LGBT.
“I think this conference is a testament to the fact that persistence pays off,” said Debra Sells, the MTSU vice president of student affairs, during her welcoming address at the event. “This needs to become something that doesn’t startle anybody.”
Seven volunteer panelists were then invited to the front of the auditorium and were asked questions regarding “bridging the divide.” Audience members were encouraged to offer their input while the panelists discussed the issues.
“Yesterday, if you were here with us, it (was) a very long day of panel discussions of people telling you their side of the story,” said William Langston, an MTSU psychology professor and the panel moderator. “This morning is your chance to come up here and talk back the other way. The goal of this is that conference participants come up and reflect on the things, and then the audience joins in on the conversation. It’s much less formal, much more fun and a lot looser.”
The first question asked to the panel was, “What do you think the potential divides are within the community or between the community and other groups of people?”
“I work for a healthcare company in the IT department, and I decided to transition about two years ago,” said Ray Holloman, a panelist and secretary of the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition. “You’re trying to bridge that divide because you have a lot of people (where) you basically have to go out and oust yourself every time because they knew you as something two weeks ago. And, now you’ve gotta tell them your names changed.”
He also mentioned that he felt that a lot of the responsibility to educate other people at work about how to address him and what his pronouns were fell on him. He said that there should be a standard level of education in regards to gender identity.
“In Memphis, there are a lot of spaces that are designated for different groups, and I’ve been kind of working towards bridging those groups … by creating special events or support groups that reach out to everybody,” said Kayla Gore, a panelist and representative of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center and OUTMemphis. “I’m a trans woman. I don’t know if you all have been paying attention, but we’ve been in the news about different bills and other things that are going on in Nashville. There are bathroom bills that prohibit students like yourselves who identify as trans … from using the restrooms of their choice.”
Some other topics that were discussed among panelists and audience members were the role of faculty and staff on a college campus to be inclusive and accepting towards LGBT+ students, the politics that go along with addressing the overall issue of gender identity and whose responsibility it ultimately is to educate the public about gender identity.
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