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Ally training held to educate students about GLBT community

October 16, 2008

The Minnesota Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender (GLBT) Campus Alliance held a three-hour ally training program at UW-River Falls Oct. 9. The event was held to train and educate those who attended on interacting with people from the GLBT community and how to deal with discrimination.

“Let’s start with the word ‘gay,’” Ann Phibbs, the main speaker of the event, said to the audience. “What are some things you think of when you see this word?”

“Rainbow,” one student said.

“Good hair,” another student said. “Clay Aiken.”

Phibbs asked the audience the same questions for other words such as “lesbian” and “transgender.” She wrote down the words the audience would shout out on the overhead projector for the audience to see. One female audience member, referring to the word “transgender,” said “gender variance.”

“Being an ally means that you tell yourself, ‘I’m going to acknowledge it, I’m going to own it and I’m going to challenge it,’” Phibbs said.

The ally training program began with an educational Jeopardy game. The audience members would choose Jeopardy-like categories to answer trivia questions about the GLBT community. Questions under such categories as vocabulary, art and literature brought up hands in the air and answers in question form.

During this session the audience learned that the first Vikings’ player that has come out as gay is Esera Tuaolo.

Among the people that attended the training program held in the University Center’s Riverview Ballroom were two speakers that shared their personal experiences of their struggle growing up being gay and later coming out.

“Now I can pursue my goals, live my life and be who I am,” speaker Mike Grewe said.

The majority of people in the audience were residence assistants, according to Samantha Larson, student and RA.

“I want to be more involved and understand my residents more that are part of the GLBT community,” she said.

In addition to the racist graffiti recently found on campus, there has been graffiti reported in the residence halls of discrimination regarding sexual orientation, gender and religion. For residents, it is helpful to have a peer they can talk to who they trust with personal questions.

“I think discrimination is definitely a problem [on campus]. I’m straight and someone wrote the word ‘gay’ on my door. The word was also carved into a bathroom stall on our floor,” William Larson, student and RA, said.

“Hopefully programs such as the ally training and other events being planned by the Social Justice Series can address these concerns and help bring awareness to our campus about all communities represented on our campus. Any person who has been a victim of a hate crime should contact Public Safety,” Kristie Feist, member of the Social Justice Series Planning Committee, said in an e-mail interview.

The ally training covered myths and stereotypes, heterosexual privilege and how to be an ally to the GLBT community. The training identified four levels of becoming an ally: awareness, knowledge/education, skills and action.

“I’m here to become more informed,” Samantha Cole, student and RA, said. “The training is interesting. I really enjoy the personal stories.”

“As someone who works for students, I believe it’s important for me to learn as much as I can about all the different student populations represented on our campus,” Feist said. “The more we learn from each other the better we can help meet the needs for all students in our community and provide the necessary services.”

At the end of the training program, participants filled out reflection cards in which they were asked how the experience affected them, and what kind of action they will take next. Responses were words such as “awareness = power” and “to make myself known as an ally.”

One person wrote in response to a reflection card question of what the main point was that they took from the experience, “affirmation that no ones’ rights should be determined by their life, sexual orientation, abilities, etc. That education and taking a stand to make equality happen is never ending.”

The ally training was sponsored by the Office of the Chancellor, Student Affairs and the ethnic studies minor and was coordinated by the Social Justice Series Planning Committee. Further information about becoming a GLBT ally can be acquired from the Gay/Straight Alliance or the Diversity Action Committee student organizations.