On the first Tuesday of every month, the Alliance for Equality, a group that brings sexual diverse people together, meets for an event called the Safe Place Social. Its purpose is to create an environment for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning community to stand alongside their straight friends in union.
The Alliance of Equality began holding monthly Safe Place Social Hours in the 2014-2015 academic year. Zachary Stewart, member of the Executive Council of the Alliance, proposed the idea about an educational program and the idea of a welcoming social for all.
The group has previously co-sponsored a workshop, a seminar about law enforcement working with trans individuals, with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the South Mississippi District.
“At a typical meeting, a dozen students and faculty gather for pizza and socializing,” said Douglas Bristol, the group’s faculty advisor of three years. “We got feedback from students and faculty at one meeting when we asked people why they supported the Alliance and the Answers ranged from wanting to show support for friends and colleagues to making up for being anti-gay at a younger age.”
Ryan Arnold, executive council member of the Alliance for Equality, has been a member of the group since 2015.
“After being an executive council member for the Gay Straight Alliance in Hattiesburg last year, I immediately sought out this group since moving down to the [coast],” Arnold said. “This is a very warm and welcoming group. They are very receptive to new ideas and inclusive of all. I view the socials as welcome ‘pause buttons’ during hectic semesters.”
The social’s turnout varies from 8 to 12 people, and it is where LGBTQ+ Gulf Coast students and friends can gather, eat pizza and socialize. Located in Elizabeth Hall, the group discusses current events going on around the world and progressive moves regarding the LGBTQ+ issues and community.
“We make a point to introduce ourselves,” said Timothy Brownlee, Alliance for Equality executive council member. “The gathering itself is very informal and all inclusive. Dr. Bristol and the rest of the Executive Council in attendance make a point to make ourselves available to everyone on campus during the introductions.”
The group promotes the knowledge of the community and issues that come with it, taking the misunderstandings of the community and promoting the acceptance of a “safe place.”
“I had spent a lot of time on the other side of the picket line,” Brownlee said. “That being said, I am not proud of things I have said in the past regarding LGBTQ+ people and have alienated many as a result.”
He said he realized he did not want anyone to treat him unequally because he was different.
“Coming to USM Gulf Park and hearing of the Alliance for Equality gave me a chance to put action to my new found belief,” Brownlee said. “At the end of the day, this is not a political issue, this is not a social issue, this is a human being issue and human beings, regardless of how they are broken, deserve to be treated with decency and love.”
“Social capital is very important,” said Ann Kinnell, associate professor of sociology. “Not having it puts an individual at a disadvantage. So you will always have groups that form over specific interests and issues like this one. People are always coming together in like-minded groups. These groups help people build social capital that is the basis of society.”
The group hosts other events throughout the year. The Alliance works with Student Affairs to develop programs for Diversity and Civility Week such as the Annual Smile for Equality Picnic, which will take place March 29 on the Gulf Park campus by the eagle statue at noon.
At the event, the Alliance gives out the annual Golden Pride Award, which gives $500 to the student who made the largest contribution to the LGBTQ+ community that academic year.
Visit the Gay Straight Alliance website for more information at usm.edu/gulfcoast/alliance-equality.