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UWRF organization designed to deal with tough gender, sexuality issues

October 24, 2014

The UW-River Falls Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) invites everyone, regardless of gender and sexual identification, to come to an organizational meeting.

GSA is designed to be a safe place to come and deal with issues which might be difficult to discuss with parents, councilors and friends.

A stigma still exists for some who do not want anyone to know they might have a different gender or sexuality identification than what is traditionally accepted.

Some students who might not want others to know they are seeing a counselor may find it easier to come to a GSA meeting although it is not a replacement for therapy and cannot provide professional help. It can, however, provide a space for acceptance and understanding.

“It’s not just for gay people; it’s not just for your lesbians,” Amber Stone, cochair of GSA said. “Being around people who loved me for who I was, no matter what or who I was, really helped me discover myself and decide this is something I need to figure out.”

GSA Network began in 1998 in San Francisco, California, in response to bullying and to provide support to middle and high school students, and by 2008 it had over 900 chapters across the nation.

When students arrive at college they can be relieved to have a familiar place to go and know they will not be judged and will find acceptance from students with various gender and sexuality identification.

Jessica Lundquist, a heterosexual senior biology major attends meetings and considers herself as an ally. Allies are important to the goal of dealing with homophobia and transphobia. When an ally publicly stands against homophobia and transphobia they have a loud voice others might hear.

“We would be nowhere without them,” Stone said. “I think the GSA movement on campuses across the nation really focused, and acceptance accelerated, after many gay and lesbian students committed suicide in a short time,” said former GSA co-Chair Austin Edman, a senior majoring in broad area English education. “People tend to come together after tragedy.”

Twice a year GSA hosts the “Drag Show” in the University Center to benefit the St. Croix Valley Sexual Assault Team (SART) and Tri-Angels, who are raising funds for an all-inclusive playground. One reason SART was chosen to benefit from the Drag Show in part because they are one of the few organizations which address male assault victims.

Students and professionals participate in drag for raunchy fun and donating dollars during the show. Theta Chi members have also participated on stage for the last couple of years, much to the delight of their friends and fellow students.

All tips the performers receive are given to the charities and the drag queens donate their time without compensation.

According to Edman, the event has grown tremendously in the last five years. Attendance has grown from around 80 students to over 500, making the drag show a must-see event for some.

Other activities, such as chalking on the campus sidewalks messages of positivity such as, “You are loved” and “You are accepted just as you are,” are regularly written to encourage other students.

GSA also goes to events in nearby Minneapolis or St. Paul to support the cause and encourage camaraderie. Students can also find the organization occasionally at a table in the University Center with GSA information.

GSA has around 20 regular attendees at its meetings, and approximately 300 Facebook friends.

GSA has welcomed gay, lesbian, transgender, pangender, straight allies, and all others on campus for over ten years.

GSA meets every Thursday in 321 St. Croix River Room, in the University Center at 7 p.m.

The main contact for the group is Stone. GSA’s email is gsa.river.falls@gmail.com, or the organization can also be found on OrgSync.