by Austin Giles
The Queer Straight Alliance is a club that offers students at Whatcom Community College the opportunity to come together and discuss sexual orientation and gender identity. Their meetings are a forum for people of like-mind to share ideas and personal experiences in a safe place. The club acts as a support group, hosts school events, advocates for queer rights and promotes education of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues to the community.
An individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity is a very personal experience. The QSA facilitates an environment for people to express themselves to others that share these unique experiences said, Taylor Werner, co-president of the QSA.
Her main goal is to get to the essence of LGBT issues while providing an inclusive and supportive environment for discussion with meetings that are fun to attend.
“It makes my educational process easier to ingest . . . knowing I can come here and be myself. If it’s been a good day or a bad day, people can still make me laugh,” said Dawna Use, a Whatcom student and member of the QSA. “It creates a safe space for anyone out of the ‘hetero-norm’ perspective.”
The first gay student advocacy organization, The Student Homophile League, was started at California’s Columbia University in 1967 to ensure that students of all orientations would be treated fairly. Nearly 20 years later, a club of this kind was established at a high school in Massachusetts by a teacher who simultaneously founded the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. The GLSEN links all independent clubs into a nationwide network. According to the history of the GLSEN, it was a straight student who approached her teacher with the idea, saying, “You’re gay and I’m straight, so let’s call it a Gay-Straight Alliance.” Today, the GLSEN reports having over 4,000 Gay-Straight Alliance clubs registered with its organization.
The conception of these clubs was not without opposition. Utah students successfully began a Gay-Straight Alliance at their high school as protected under the Federal Equal Access Act of 1984 which states that all extracurricular clubs have equal right to form and function and a school cannot discriminate against any single club, meaning that if one exists, then all can exist.
In turn, Utah legislators banned all extra-curricular clubs in an attempt to shut down the Gay-Straight Alliance. After extensive legal battles, cities in Utah have since allowed Gay-Straight Alliance groups to meet.
History is a major part of these organization’s identity. It was not that long ago when students had to fight to start these clubs. It is because of this that Gay-Straight Alliances can now provide a sense of community for any student seeking it.
The attendance in Whatcom’s Queer Straight Alliance has increased by four times from what it was last year, said co-president, Nick Malven. He started in QSA last spring, when typically only eight members attended meetings. Leadership positions became available and Malven decided he wanted to take responsibility to ensure that the club continued. The decision was made that he and Werner would share the presidency. They got together during the summer and brainstormed event ideas for this school year.
The QSA is set to co-host a dance with the Programs and Diversity Board on Oct. 28. The Halloween themed dance with be held in the Syre auditorium.
“Another event that I’m excited about is our winter dance, Le Cirque Noir,” said Malven, “Were hoping to have Bellingham’s Circus Guild appear.”
“We want it to be something that the QSA and Whatcom has never seen before,” said Werner. The event does not yet have a date but is set to be conducted in February. The club also usually hosts Rainbow Prom and a yearly drag and variety show.
There is a new club forming, conceived out of the QSA called Synergy. It is a group geared more towards gender variance.
“The issues are related but very different,” said Taylor Brookes, a Whatcom student participating in the establishment of the club. Synergy will be a peer support group, whereas QSA is more of a public advocacy group. Their mission is to create a confidential group that “helps people understand their identity,” said Brookes.
The name picked to represent the group, Synergy, means that two forces are coming together for a combined effect that is greater than their individual effect. They are in the process of forming, gathering members and plan on going before student council to be recognized as a club.
Makela Alem, a QSA member who plans to be a member of Synergy, said that the club has given her a better sense of community at Whatcom and she is proud of the group they are creating. “I’m excited about what’s to come,” said Alem.