According to American biologist Alfred Kinsey, approximately one in every 10 Americans is gay. Others estimate the figure is closer to one in five. Even using Kinsey’s more conservative estimate, 1,300 gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) students may be spread across Park University’s 43 campuses, and two GLBT students may be in every Parkville daytime classroom.
“People need to be aware of their peers,” says Ashley Allee, freshman in liberal studies and vice-president of Connection at Park, the organization for issues relating to students of all sexual and gender identities. “You can look at someone and see what race they are and make your judgment. Sexual orientation is hidden. When people discriminate against GLBT people, they may not know they’re discriminating against someone sitting next to them.”
Allee has been called a poster child for GLBT issues in her schools. At her high school, she started the gay-straight alliance (GSA). It took two years of working with the administration there to get the club approved and active.
“The fliers were really friendly; they just said ‘everyone welcome,’” says Allee. “But people were so threatened. They ripped the fliers up, threw the bits at people. They were threatening to bomb the meeting, or bring a gun to it. People were legitimately scared to be a part of the club.”
Even then, Allee says she didn’t back down.
“I was scared, because I was spearheading the whole thing,” says Allee. “And there were all these younger kids looking up to me to protect them.”
The meeting wasn’t bombed, and no one was killed. However, Allee says the harassment didn’t stop there.
“I had about a week left before graduation when I heard about this kid talking to his friends,” says Allee. “He said, ‘if it wasn’t illegal, I’d tie Ashley Allee to a stick and burn her alive.’ That kind of thing would never be tolerated if someone was standing up for racial rights instead of gay rights.”
When Allee came to Park University, she wasn’t threatened with death or dismemberment when she joined Connection at Park. But she says Park still has a long way to go to be GLBT-friendly.
“People use the term ‘that’s so gay’ even though they know it can hurtful,” says Allee. “They take a word that the dictionary says means ‘happy’ to mean ‘stupid’. It makes them sound like they think gay people are stupid.”
As an elected senator in the Park Student Government Association, Allee says she works hard to represent the interests of all the students, which includes GLBT students.
“There have been some negative comments about the gay community there,” says Allee. “I brought it up in Senate and we addressed it. We haven’t had a lot of time to discuss these issues, because we’ve been focusing on club allocations.”
Having a passion for spreading awareness about unconscious bullying is why Allee was recently awarded a year-long internship at The Trevor Project, a national suicide prevention organization focused on GLBT youth. Local GLBT activists report it’s hard to get a position with the organization.
Her internship requires her to spearhead projects and events in the Midwestern region to raise awareness about topics like depression, harassment, gender identity, and other issues. Allee says she is focusing her Trevor Project endeavors through Connection At Park. Connection has begun awareness projects such as the You Are Loved sidewalk chalk project in September, and the upcoming If You Really Knew Me project inspired by Post Secret.
“We’ve already done a lot of the things we hoped to do this semester,” says Allee. “I don’t think any of us knew what kind of response we were going to get… It’s been really amazing.”
Along with those projects, Connection At Park is planning a Safe Space Workshop for the spring to educate the community on how to facilitate accepting spaces for GLBT students. Smaller events include the monthly movie night, showing documentaries and films about GLBT life, love, and issues.
“Connection at Park really is about connecting,” says Allee. “It’s about bringing people together. No movement can be successful with just the people being targeted. You need allies. It can’t just be GLBT people. You need the full circle to bring about change.”
Published in The Stylus Newspaper, 5 November 2010