Most freshmen and even upperclassmen have apprehension when going into a blind living situation in which they may or may not see eye to eye with their roommate.
But for gay and transgender students, a set of new fears is in place as well because they worry about tolerance from their roommates.
“The single largest problem (for members of the LGBT community) in the residence halls is being out to your roommate,” said Engineering freshman Jill Berberich. “Changing in a different room, dirty looks, cruel jokes … it makes you feel like less of a person.”
To take on the problem, Berberich along with LSA freshman Jaya Kalra have founded Queers in Residence as a forum for queer, questioning and allied students in the residence halls to socialize and discuss issues that pertain to their community.
“Its purpose is to provide a nonactivist group for (gay, transgender and allied) students, increasing the feeling of community without diminishing the energy of the LGBTA activist organizations on campus,” Kalra said.
While LGBT groups on campus place a focus on activism, QIR hopes to help students through interaction within the community.
“Questioning students often find that it is harder to participate in activism because they think people will group them and discriminate against them,” Berberich said.
“It is hard being new to the community and feeling the pressure to do as much as possible. Mostly, we thought it would be a good place for those who are new and old to the community to come and talk in a relaxed atmosphere.”
Christensen added that for underclassmen, the process of dealing with new roommates who may or may not be accepting of homosexuality makes the situation even more difficult and awkward.
But not all students give the community a reason to worry about a new roommate situation.
RC freshman Nate Cunningham roomed blind and said he had no qualms when he found out that his roommate was gay. He added his roommate has not affected his behavior more than any other roommate would.
“I really haven’t changed any of my habits from living in my own room except for common-courtesy things,” Cunningham said.
“I’m very glad that I’ve had this experience because its exposed me to homosexuality, which I always knew was there, but was never face-to-face with,” he said.
Others do not find it quite so easy to make this adjustment and switch rooms to avoid confronting homosexuality. For situations like this, QIR hopes it can be a support for its members.
“People can be really judgmental, and a lot of people find that even (LGBT) groups are clique-ey, but the people in (QIR) make sure that there isn’t that, and I had the impression that everyone was comfortable at QIR,” Christensen said.
The group held its first meeting on Saturday, which Christensen said started off as a group of somewhat hesitant individuals, most of them freshmen.
“It was a first meeting, and not everyone knew each other, so it was a little more reserved, but a lot of LGBT groups tend to have that reserved quality. People are at different stages of coming out, so that adds to the atmosphere as well,” she said, adding that toward the end, any feelings of isolation disappeared as students exchanged coming-out stories.
“The most interesting things to me are always the coming-out stories or first
realizations of being different. I think it is amazing how young some people
can know that they do not have any attraction to the opposite sex,” Berberich said.
At the meeting, QIR members also discussed activities that would help create a welcoming atmosphere for LGBT students.
“We discussed the possibility of having movie nights, dinners and a snuggling party,
among other things. Then the meeting turned more relaxed, and we told
stories about realizing our queerness,” Kalra said.
QIR hopes to provide fun activities for students in the LGBT community to get to know each other, but the main focus of the organization is to deal with issues that arise for those members of the community living in residence halls, the organizers said.