Nick (he, him, his) is a student from Riverside, and Gray (they, them, their) is a student from Springfield.
Alliance: Can you talk about the LGBTQ community and its importance to you and what makes it unique?
Nick: Before and up until I came out, my greatest fear was that my relationships with those I was closest with would change because of the way they perceived my sexuality. People have their own preconceptions about the way that gay men are supposed to be, and so did I. I felt surrounded by a constant barrage of media portrayals of gay men that I didn’t feel were an accurate reflection of who I was at all- but I still knew that I was attracted to men. I did not feel like I was in the wrong body, I loved being a man, I loved the fact that my platonic relationships with men didn’t have any baggage and weren’t dictated by any underlying sexual tension. When I finally worked up the courage to come out, I was welcomed by an amazing support system at the family level, but with my entire circle of friends, my fears came true. I was rejected- having become an “other” in the eyes of my closest friends and underwent a year-long period of time where I didn’t have any friends to speak of. It was really and truly crushing- but as I got older, gained confidence in who I was, and started meeting new people (some of which were LGBTQ), I started feeling safe in the fact that I was not alone- other people had gone through the same situation I did, oftentimes in an even uglier way. In a world that is often deeply unfair to those who feel so deeply about the parts of them that don’t line up with what a person is “supposed to be like,” it is crucial to preserve safe spaces for the forging of relationships between LGBTQ people for support, guidance, or oftentimes, just plain friendship without footnotes.
Gray: It's home for me. My Community of youth in Springfield, Illinois is diverse and loving. I've found that there's a much larger number of people who want to talk about what is happening to ourselves and others, and are able to think critically for themselves. As a teen who desires knowledge and discussions on big issues, this is crucial for me. It gives me a place to flex my intellectual muscles safely, where I know that I'll still be loved, and there are very clear rules- no argumentative fallacies, no cheap shots, and you MUST be able to deconstruct how you feel to support your argument.
Alliance: Do you feel that the LGBTQ community is inclusive?
Nick: The LGBTQ community has a long way to go when it comes to intersectionality on all fronts. I’ve had trans friends tell me that they wish the T in LGBT was separate so their issues would be dealt independently, rather than assumed as covered by new legislation protecting LGB people. I believe that oftentimes, LGB people are not invested enough in the LGBTQ community to be bothered with even knowing what it means to be trans, asexual, intersex, or otherwise- which is just another reason to emphasize the importance of LGBTQ community outreach. I believe that the people who truly care about LGBTQ issues are inclusive to all parts of the community- racially-based or gender-based- and as the fights for racial equality and trans equality progress, the LGBTQ community’s understanding and tolerance will be evolving right alongside them.
Gray: I feel that smaller LGBTQ communities are more accepting, especially when you have kids involved. When there are so few kids like you, you don’t care about what race or gender identity they are. I feel that it is different on larger scales though, especially with the media’s focus on predominantly white, anglo-saxon gay men. It causes there to be a rift between them and anyone who isn’t being represented in the media.
Alliance: Is there a difference in the LGBTQ community when it comes to age?
Nick: LGBTQ adults versus youth have had entirely separate experiences, so there is an understandable difference in the ways that they approach LGBT issues and the ways in which they guide their lives as queer people. Times have changed in a truly revolutionary way for young queer people in a very short window of time. I was constantly told by the older gay men who supported and mentored me in the first few years after coming out that if I had come out even a single generation before my own, my experience would have been entirely different- turbulent, divisive, potentially violent. Which isn’t to sound patronizing toward young queer people, it’s just that the struggles my generation has to overcome are worlds away from those of the last generation of queer men and women.
Gray: Yes! Many older adults didn’t grow up when being gay or lesbian was generally acceptable by the public, and that kind of difference causes there to be a large generational gap between the ages. I’ve found that LGBT adults tend to be more cautious when it comes to gender-nonconforming people, although it is changing as 1-25 years old get older and start to enter middle age, bringing their views with them. I’ve found that LGBT youth have a more rambunctious and ready attitude when it comes to small sexual identities and trans identities.
Alliance: What would you say to someone who is not from the LGBTQ community but want to be an Ally?
Nick: The number one thing I would say to a potential ally is to remember the role of an ally in the scheme of LGBTQ issues- offer your support and tolerance, be a friend to those who need it, do your part to combat prejudice, but remember that it is ultimately not about you. An ally of the community is just that- an ally- one who offers support, not someone who is the voice of the entire movement. Sometimes the smartest thing you can do to become a better ally is to let LGBTQ have the floor to voice what they want to see change, or to just simply ask questions. But if as an ally, you find yourself being the loudest voice for the issue in a sea of queer people- you’re probably doing it wrong.
Gray: Listen to our concerns, and take a back seat when the topic comes up.