The history of GC and LGBTQ+ community

October is a special month for the LGBTQ+ community and allies. It is a time to recognize the history of the gay rights movement, known as LGBTQ+ History Month. The purpose of this month is to educate, provide LGBTQ+ icons and acknowledge the important contributions LGBTQ+ people have made to society. 

LGBTQ+ History Month was founded by Rodney Wilson and was first celebrated in 1994. Wilson chose October for multiple reasons, mainly because National Coming Out Day is Oct. 11. 

The acronym LGBT was first used in the 1990s and gained popularity as a way of emphasizing the many diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. The acronym stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. The Q+ was added later, and many variations of the acronym are used, such as LGBTQI, LGBTQIA and LGBTIQ. 

For Beth Martin Birky, associate academic dean, the LGBTQ+ movement and the feminist  movement are closely related. She cites Goshen College’s long-standing women and gender studies minor as an important milestone in LGBTQ+ inclusion on campus. 

Since 1984, the women and gender studies minor has analyzed the intersection between race, gender and LGBTQ+ issues.  Birky says that Goshen College’s program is unique in many ways and has been a catalyst for more change.  

“When I talk to other Christian colleges and universities, we are doing a lot, and we have made some really important strides,” Birky said. “I think we are a community that is more informed and tolerant about gender dynamics than some other Christian colleges.” 

A developing spirit of activism and support led to the formation of PRISM on campus, which is a private support group for LGBTQ+ students. According to Birky, this was due to more awareness and educational campaigns. 

Another significant institutional change took place at GC on July 18, 2015, just weeks after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. 

The Goshen College Board for Directors updated the non-discrimination policy to allow openly LGBTQ+ people to work for Goshen College. 

This change was only made possible through years of student campaigning and pressure at both Goshen College and Eastern Mennonite University. 

Currently, there are many student groups for LGBTQ+ students and allies, such as PRISM and Advocates. 

Advocates is a student-run educational organization for all students — LGBTQ+ or allies. It is not set up as a support group and is more focused on fostering community and understanding between LGBTQ+ students and the rest of campus. 

The leaders of Advocates this year are Katie Baer, Emma Nouri and Haley Willis, all juniors. Their goals include making Advocates more visible on campus, hosting more events and letting underclassmen know that they have a supportive community on campus. They want people to know that you do not need to identify as LGBTQ+ to join Advocates.  

One event they are hoping to host in the spring is an LGBTQ+ Prom.

“We want to give all LGBTQ+ students on campus the same experience that everyone else got to have,” said Baer. “We want them to feel more than welcome here.”

PRISM is a confidential support group for LGBTQ+ students. As with other support groups meeting in anonymity and safety and promoting healthy personal growth, these conversations remain confidential, as well as the location and time of the meetings. For more information, email prism@goshen.edu.

Aside from clubs, support groups and faculty support, there have also been some institutional transitions toward a more inclusive campus. 

The choirs in the music department recently underwent a change toward gender neutrality. What were formerly known as “Women’s World Music Choir” and “Men’s Chorus” are now called “Voices of the Earth” and “Vox Profundi,” respectively. 

There is also a new gender-inclusive floor this year. The formation of this floor was Student Senate-led and is a big step toward inclusion, although it is brand-new and still developing. 

There are many ways to be involved with and support the LGBTQ+ community on campus, whether you identify as LGBTQ+ or not. Baer and Nouri encourage everyone to learn about Advocates and to help make Goshen a more inclusive place. If you have questions, suggestions or you are interested in joining, email them at advocates@goshen.edu.

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Written by Greta Klassen, Contributing Writer

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