LGBT+ students celebrate identities

edited.PrideFlag_RebeccaKanaskieBy Erica Quinones

News Editor

The Washington College LGBT+ student community celebrated their identities and reflected on their experiences at the National Coming Out Day Open Mic.

National Coming Out Day was Oct. 11, while students went on Fall Break; so, the on-campus community celebrated early.

LGBT+ support groups ­— Encouraging Respect of Sexuality (EROS) and Supporting All Gender Experiences (SAGE) — collaborated with Musicians’ Union (MU) to host the open mic in the Hynson Faculty Lounge on Oct. 7.

The event presented an open forum for expression, be it through poetry, music, or even poi — a performance art which includes swinging tethered weights in rhymical patterns. But mostly, it was a time to connect and enjoy the company of friends with some beatboxing, interpretive dance, and a series of pick-up lines.

While participants did not need to present an artistic work, art was undeniably a major part of the event.

Junior Rian Van Tassell, president of SAGE, said that they personally use art to express and explore their identity.

“I have several pieces that are about my queerness. I do a lot of poetry, but I also do a lot of fiction writing, and my fiction writing focuses heavily on queer characters,” Van Tassell said.

Junior Berkleigh Fadden, president of MU, shared Van Tassell’s sentiments.

“Art is a way to express however you feel,” Fadden said. “Music just comes naturally to me, and being queer comes naturally to me, so putting those two things together is really important for my identity.”

Participants expressed themselves similarly through performance pieces. Many read original works exploring same-sex attraction, societal reactions to lesbian relationships, struggles with defining gender identity, and coming out to parents.

While those that read original works are themselves queer artists, those who performed musical covers often represented fellow LGBT+ community members.

“As a queer person, every work I do is inherently queer,” Fadden said. “But I did a Left at London song tonight, and she is a trans lesbian. So, I think having queer artists support other queer artists is important because it establishes our sense of community and we really need to have each other’s backs.”

This sense of community is important to both LGBT+ clubs on campus.

For Van Tassell, SAGE creates a community for anybody that is transgender, gender non-conforming, or an ally. SAGE is an environment where people to feel safe, be open, and talk about both their struggles and victories.

EROS strives for a similar goal, according to its president, senior Casey Lockard.

Lockard said the group creates a community with “similar experiences and understanding.” Together, they discuss topics like LGBT+ representation in media, and it can serve as a forum for listening to each other, answering questions, and giving advice.

EROS is also active in the wider Chestertown community, with connections to the local Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) chapter and the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) at Kent County High School.

Besides the local PFLAG chapter and GSA, Lockard identified May’s Mid-Shore Pride as a symbol of Chestertown’s further acceptance of the LGBT+ community.

Mid-Shore Pride, the historic first pride event in Chestertown, was hosted by Kent County native and drag artist, Marti Cummings.

During their celebratory drag performance, Cummings said they were overwhelmed to see pride come to their home — something they had never imagined. And something that almost did not happen, the permit barely passing with a three to two Chestertown Council vote in February, according to a March 7 Elm article.

But while the College and Chestertown are openly supportive of the LGBT+ community, coming out can still be a daunting task.

Part of that is defining how someone identifies. Van Tassell said they wished the Health and Counseling Center offered informational pamphlets on being transgender, because they and other transgender people did not necessarily know what being transgender is.

But another part of coming out is safety. That is why it is so important to create a supportive community for LGBT+ peoples.

Community can be hard to find. Some participants expressed nervousness over how their parents would respond to their identities, decisions to not come out to extended family, and relief over positive reactions. But no matter how comfortable they were at home, all those who spoke on coming out were comfortable enough to tell the audience.

Generally, club leaders said the WC community was open and accepting of LGBT+ students.

Lockard said that faculty and staff are helpful and often reached out. Some even offered help if EROS needed it.

Van Tassell also said that they found the College to be respectful and helpful towards transgender students. Professors are getting better at asking for pronouns and respecting preferred names. Faculty also helped Van Tassell change their email address to reflect their preferred name.

However, there are some administrative details that can stress transgender students, like ID cards, according to Van Tassell. College identification carries a student’s legal name. If that legal name is also their deadname — the name given at birth — it can serve as a constant reminder for transgender students.

“Keeping [your identity] to yourself is really harmful because you do not have support, you are very confused, and you are possibly engaging in dangerous behaviors. I do not think anyone should have to come out, and ideally in a perfect world coming out would not be a thing,” Van Tassell said. “But I would encourage coming out if you are in a safe environment.”

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