On Monday, February 27th, Spencer Pride member Jonathan Balash joined a panel of local LGBTQIA community leaders at Eigenmann Hall dormitory on the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington. The panel was coordinated by a concerned Residence Assistant in order to educate residents of the dorm about the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and intersex community. The dorm had been the location of some disturbing recent anti-gay harassment. One of the residents of the hall who was perceived to be gay – but who has not identified as such – was being harassed by fellow residents of the dormitory. Although the harassment began verbally, it ultimately resulted in the word ‘F-A-G’ being written in bold letters on the resident’s door.
The panel included Cathy Wyatt from White River Valley PFLAG, Patrick Battani from IU Health Bloomington, Alexandra Marshall (a PhD student from Indiana University focusing on LGBTQI issues), Matt Lowther from the STRONG Men Project, and Spencer Pride president Jonathan Balash. The panel was moderated by Mai-Lin Poon from Planned Parenthood of Indiana.
The event was well-attended by the residents of the floor where the anti-gay harassment occurred. It began at 7:30 PM in the main lounge of the dormitory. First, each panelist introduced themself in the context of the topic at hand. Some described their own experiences as members of the LGBTQI community, while others described why they have become involved even though they are not themselves members of that community. Cathy Wyatt’s son is gay, for example, and Alexandra Marshall has been involved in a significant amount of research relating to bullied youth.
After the introductions were finished, Mai-Lin Poon began asking prepared questions to the panelists. Each panelist responded to the questions from a unique perspective. Jonathan tended to focus on workplace issues related to being an out gay man.
A common theme of the event was about the labels that are often so easily associated with people or groups that we don’t understand. Everything from bullying to marriage equality to the experiences of ‘coming out’ was discussed. Some of the topics were initiated by Mai-Lin, while others began due to questions posed from residents in the audience.
It is generally believed that the panel was successful in educating the residents of the dormitory and hopefully the panel discussion has put a more realistic ‘face’ on members of the LGBTQI community. Only time will tell if the harassment subsides at the dormitory, but thanks to the efforts of the concerned R.A., there is a good chance that the event will have a positive impact on the residents of her floor.