From left to right: Facilitator Emmett McIntyre (’13), Keelia Murphy (’11), Eliot Jackson (’13), Aly Runke (’16), Sophia Anguilla (’15), and Michael Urbina (’14)

This past Wednesday, as various wigs, hats, and deep green ladyfingers were displayed across campus, the Women’s Resource Center hosted an event entitled Changing Perceptions: Stories from the LGBTQIA Community. The panel discussion, facilitated by student Emmett McIntyre, highlighted the unique experiences of Saint Mary’s students who identify as LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Ally). McIntyre, who was also responsible for coordinating the event and gathering the panelists, was interested in this event because he noticed that discussions about the LGBTQIA experience almost always focused on the while males. According to McIntyre, the panel discussion allowed for “a more diverse look at the experience.”

Each panelist hailed from different years and different parts and pieces of the acronym. Keelia Murphy (’11), Eliot Jackson (’13), Aly Runke (’16), Sophia Anguilla (’15), and Michael Urbina (’14) shared their personal experiences around identity, stereotypes, family, and allies, as well as the various challenges and surprises that come along with being a member of the LGBTQIA community.
McIntyre kicked off the discussion by asking the panelists how they identified themselves, which proved to be a rather complex question.

“Why can’t I just be me? Why isn’t that okay?” sophomore panelist Sophia Anguilla asked after sharing her story.

Eliot Jackson, a senior, agreed. “I’m constantly defining my identity and my culture,” she said.

In regards to stereotypes, many panelists admitted that they sometimes played into them in order to gain legitimacy among their group. These stereotypes are often related to clothing and personal style.

“Sometimes I feel like I have to play into that stereotype in order to be identified as queer,” Keelia Murphy, a recent Saint Mary’s graduate, remarked.

“It’s like dressing to eat with your grandparents,” Eliot Jackson echoed. “Which is really weird.”

On a related note, family appeared to be valued among all of the panelists. Senior Eliot Jackson expressed her reservations toward having a family, though she would like to have one. “I have issues with bringing children into the world and knowing they are going to be scrutinized for who their parents are,” she explained.

First-year student Aly Runke kept her future plans rather broad. “I just want to have happiness,” she said. “I define family as people who, no matter what I do, will hug me at the end of the day.”

The panel also offered helpful insight for allies of the LGBTQIA community. Michael Urbina, representing the “Ally” part of the LGBTQIA experience, was a strong advocate for education. As for his reasons for becoming an ally, he cites his younger sister, an out lesbian, as his “huge source of inspiration.” Urbina explained, “The fact that equality doesn’t exist for everyone really irks me.”

Keelia Murphy echoed Urbina’s call for education among allies. “It’s so comforting when people already know, and when they’ve done their research,” she said. However, Murphy also noted that spaces for different groups should be respected and that “it’s okay to not always be included.”

Eliot Jackson highlighted the importance of all people understanding how to be a good ally, regardless of whether they fall in the LGBTQIA community or not. “Within your identity, you’re never gonna be able to encompass everything, so we’re all allies.”

Many attendees felt that the event lived up to its namesake, changing the perceptions of those who listened in on the discussion. Briana Foster, a sophomore student, appreciated the breadth of insight. “It definitely brought a new perception. I used to think it was only gay or lesbian,” she said. “There are so many different experiences. You can’t just put it in a box.”