The Southern Miss Prism Center and the Center for International Education held the Share the Love forum event as a part of International Diversity Education Week Monday, Nov. 5.
The forum focused on several issues facing the LGBTQ+ community, including the challenges that face transgender people and how those who wish to be allies to the LGBTQ+ community can do better about improving the situation.
Amy Ellefson, a Ph.D student of Communication Studies, suggested that the best way to start with being an ally is to want to learn about the issues and identities of people in the LGBTQ+ community.
“Most people are okay with questions that come from a place of truly wanting know,” Ellefson said.
The concept of gender identity versus biological sex and the idea that gender exists on a spectrum was also discussed.
Junior psychology major Alex Saucier identifies as transgender man.
“If you have pink on one side and blue on the other, you have a whole range of purples that exist in the middle,” Saucier said.
This statement started a dialog about gender identity and gender expression and how people express their gender in different ways.
“It’s very individual. What makes me a man and what makes you a man could be two completely different things, and that’s okay,” Saucier said.
The discussion also focused heavily on the issues that face LGBTQ+ issues in Hattiesburg. The panelists said the city gives many people in the LGBTQ+ community the opportunity to express themselves, but that things could be better.
Senior English major Jack Hoda said potential allies should be politically engaged, especially when legislation regarding LGBTQ+ issues is being discussed.
“People tend to think that there’s no longer a problem, but when it comes to things like employment protections for LGBTQ+ people, it’s still a huge issue,” Hoda said.
Panelist and Vice-President of the Hattiesburg Spectrum Center Keenan Walker described the experience of alleviating the issues that LGBTQ+ individuals face in the city. He is not only involved with the Spectrum Center but has also worked with the Hattiesburg City Council and the Historic Hattiesburg Downtown Association as a social media representative and continues to be an advocate of LGBTQ+ issues within the Hattiesburg community.
“I’ve put myself in an elevated position in the community, and I know that there are people out there who would rather not see me doing the things that I’m doing. But I just keep on doing what I’m doing,” Walker said.
Tegi Jenkins-Rimmer, the Program Manager for the Office of Multicultural Programs and Services and also one of the organizers of this event, said that the goal of the event was to remove the stigmas surrounding LGBTQ+ issues.
“Love is too beautiful to be hidden in the closet.” This quote is attributed to an anonymous person on the internet and was pictured on all of the posters advertising the event.
“It symbolizes the daily struggle for people in the community. The constant fear of not being able to be yourself. It also represents the programs effort to get LGBTQ+ individuals to feel comfortable with who they are,” Jenkins-Rimmer said.
She also said that the quote represents the effort to make a more inclusive campus, a goal that is shared among many of the organizations here at Southern Miss.
For more information on LGBTQ+ resources in Hattiesburg, visit the Spectrum Center website.