There was scarcely an empty seat in Hutchins Hall as students of all identities and backgrounds gathered to discuss issues in the LGBT community on Tuesday.
About 80 students attended a panel discussion discussing issues that affect LGBT individuals outside of the highly publicized subject of marriage equality. Panelists spoke about difficulties living with LGBT identity, specifically undocumented immigrants, homeless individuals and those who live with HIV/AIDS.
The event, titled “Beyond Gay Marriage,” was hosted by the University’s chapter of Stonewall Democrats and the Coalition for Queer People of Color. The discussion was focused around a panel of five speakers from the Ruth Ellis Center, a homeless center focused on LGBT youth in Detroit, the National Center of Transgender Equality, the Neutral Zone, a music program that works with teens and the University.
Coalition for Queer People of Color co-chair Manan Kocher, an engineering senior, said the idea for the event was created during a casual conversation with Stonewall Democrats co-chair Blake Mackie, an LSA senior, at a coffee shop.
“We realized there are a lot of issues that affect queer people besides gay marriage that are under-represented in the media,” Kocher said before the event. “We’re not trying to say that gay marriage was over-represented or misrepresented, we’re just saying that there are issues that were overlooked.”
Kocher said this issue is important to him because of the “differences” he noticed between his identities, recognizing himself as both LGBT and a person of color.
“As a queer person of color, I realized that I lived my life in two separate spheres without realizing that they actually intersected,” Kocher said. “These are both minority identities, one is not exclusive of the other, and they both play into my experiences as a student of this campus.”
Mackie also echoed Kocher’s sentiments in an interview before the panel, and said he became involved in LGBT activism after the challenging experiences that followed when he came out during middle school.
“I really like having this great group, it allows us to do a lot of education based events such as this one,” Mackie said. “With this event, everyone immediately thinks of same sex marriage and while it’s really important to fight for equal rights, there are a lot of really important issues that are overlooked.”
A recurring theme throughout the hour-long panel discussion was the importance of the presence of LGBT community allies, those who don’t identify personally but will advocate for sexuality equality.
Nesha Haniff, a lecturer in the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies, was the only faculty member on the panel, and said though she doesn’t normally speak at events, she came to support her students who organized the panel, as well as promote her message about HIV/AIDS in the LGBT community.
“I feel that people value what I have to say,” Haniff said. “My discussion about involving students at the University resonates with a lot of people. A lot of students are looking for meaning, not just an education, and to find ways of actually doing that, like becoming an ally or activist, I think is very important.”
Haniff continued to stress the importance of individuals outside the LGBT community to act as allies, noting these are “community issues, not minority issues.”
LSA sophomore Miray Philips said she attended the panel because she wanted to become more informed about LGBT issues before she will volunteers for an Alternative Spring Break program in Detroit. As a volunteer for the Ruth Ellis Center, she will help teens who experience homelessness as a direct result of their identity.
“I grew up in the Middle East where this wasn’t completely accepted and this is a great way to learn how to properly be an ally, and to help spread awareness, especially when I explain it to my family,” Philips said.
Philips said she feels she will be better equipped for the program after attending the panel because she is more aware of many of the issues the community faces.
Public Health student Jamie Tam also attended the lecture and expressed her view that while queer issues are often seen as separate, they’re all connected in society.
“LGBTQ issues are deeply connected to racial justice issues, economic justice issues, the women’s movement, and the way that we need to advocate for prison reform,” Tam said. “They’re all tied to the queer movement. The inability for other groups to see themselves in relation to each other is a major disconnect and what I’m really hoping to do.”