National LGBTQIA issues demand response from Elon students

Elon’s new LGBTQIA support center opened in October 2013. It is located on the second floor of Moseley Center.

It is not easy to be openly gay in the United States, but it is far easier now than it has ever been in the past.

Even still, issues surrounding gay marriage and the social treatment of those who identify as LGBTQIA plague the nation’s Supreme Court. Political leaders are similarly forced to face the issues as the nation’s best athletes travel to Sochi, Russia for the Winter Olympics.

President Vladimir Putin of Russia has enforced strong anti-LGBTQIA legislation, including the recently adopted anti-propaganda law that forbids the "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors.”

The Russian policies will likely have a large effect on the Winter Olympics, making it a high-profile issue in the LGBTQIA community and the nation at large. However, the United States has many internal issues that the government must consider as well.

Jen Jones is the communications director of Equality NC, a Raleigh-based organization dedicated to ensuring equality for LGBT North Carolinians. Jones said that though winning equality for LGBT citizens abroad is important, the U.S. must consider its own issues first.

"As someone who works for an LGBT advocacy organization in the U.S. South, everyday I see the breadth and scope of work still to be done right here in our country on even the most basic LGBT issues," Jones said. "Our immediate focus should be winning both a legal and living equality for members of the LGBT community right here at home -- if only to more effectively advocate for a global LGBT community in the coming decades."

Assistant professor of sociology Laurin Kier is active in the LGBTQIA community on Elon’s campus, and agrees that the community should focus on domestic issues first. She said that Sochi's dominance in the news will help to open the discussion at home in the United States.

“Putting the emphasis on Sochi makes sense because anybody who hears the news will hear about that,” Kier said. “It will have a trickle-down effect. The nation will look at our own issues once the Olympics are over.”

Elon has never had a particularly activist campus, but there are other steps the community can take to make a stand on LGBTQIA issues.

“What can we do as a campus?” Kier said. “We can get rid of Chik-fil-A. We can be a leader in being vocal about having gender orientation clauses in our non-discrimination policy. Our Greek life can support LGBTQIA philanthropies. There are a lot of ways we can make a stand without protesting.”

Junior Claire Lockard is the current president of Spectrum, Elon's queer-straight student alliance. She agrees that active protests are not always the best response to injustices.

"Spectrum is focused on learning as much as we can about LGBTQIA rights, both within our own communities and beyond," Lockard said. "Being informed is the first step towards speaking out against injustices."

Besides further educating themselves, Spectrum hopes to help inform the campus about issues in the community. Before Lockard, Kevin Moore was the president of Spectrum, and he said that during his time as president he focused on creating strong teams to work together to create change.

"The campus worked together to create a campaign for equality when it came to the Chick-Fil-A issue, we brought the Vote Against Project to campus when it came to Prop 8 and we focused on many other teamwork efforts such as that. I think what we have to do is to get others to see that it is not just an LGBTQIA issue, but a society issue."

Moore was president of Spectrum during a pivotal time on the campus, and he said that though not everything worked out perfectly, he is proud of his accomplishments.

"Through our involvement with these issues we found new allies and even got others who were hesitant of our involvements to reconsider their opinions. If we can change just one person's perspectives on LGBTQIA issues then I think we already are making some progress. At the end of the day, it's all about commitment, teamwork and dedication."

One of Spectrum's largest events during the year is Pride Week. The series of events takes place every April and has been Spectrum's primary tool for celebrating and increasing awareness of the LGBTQIA community on campus.

"In the past, we've had Elon's Chaplain, Jan Fuller, perform 30-second marriages at College Coffee for anyone who wants to celebrate their love," Lockard said. "We've also done educational panels about LGBTQIA rights internationally, help organize open-mic nights and hosted Second Chance Proms so that people can bring any date they choose."

Though the response to Pride Week is generally positive, Lockard said the events do not tend to attract large audiences.

"People -- both at Elon and elsewhere -- tend to be afraid to come into LGBTQIA spaces if they themselves do not identify somewhere along the spectrum. However, we welcome everyone and we encourage everyone to show their support," Lockard said.

Though Elon is a self-labelled inclusive space, the United States is not. Due to either a Constitutional amendment or a state law, 33 states still ban same-sex marriage -- including North Carolina.

The Elon University Poll released in April 2013 reported that 44 percent of North Carolina residents supported same-sex marriage. This statistic has been slowly rising in the last couple of years.

Jones said that especially with the debate surrounding Amendment One, the last two years have been pivotal for her organization’s fight against LGBTQIA issues in North Carolina.

Jones said that especially with the debate surrounding Amendment One, the last two years have been pivotal for her organization’s fight against LGBTQIA issues in North Carolina.

Despite the ongoing national and international issues, the younger generations have statistically been more accepting of the LGBTQIA community, and Kier said she believes there are many good and progressive measures on the horizon.

“It’s not all doom and gloom,” she said. “And it’s important to remember that.”