Gender And Sexuality Column

Thompson: How Syracuse University can take LGBTQ acceptance beyond rainbow flags and create actual change

Daily Orange File Photo

Even though upstate New York is a largely conservative area, Syracuse University has worked hard to become a stronghold of LGBTQ+ acceptance.

Rainbow flags, drag queens and parades, oh my! The culmination of Pride Month has left Syracuse and cities across the country a little gayer — in both meanings of the word.

But not everything is sunshine and rainbow flags. Well-timed advertising campaigns seem to forget that in much of the United States, LGBTQ discrimination is not the exception, but the norm. Whether it’s marriage licenses, service at privately-owned businesses or adoption, LGBTQ people in many areas of the country still lack rights that straight, cisgender people often take for granted.

Stuck in the middle of conservative central New York, Syracuse University has made deliberate and necessary steps to become a beacon of LGBTQ acceptance. It’s looked beyond the rainbow flags and focused on actual progress, like implementing gender-inclusive housing and a preferred name policy. While SU stands as an example for colleges and communities across the country for its work so far, Pride Month is the perfect time to reflect on what it still needs to improve.

Courtney McGuire performs at the 2017 Pride Union Drag Show, surrounded by giant pink feathers.

Pride Union hosts SU’s Totally Fabulous Drag Show every year, which serves as a celebration of queer identities on campus. | Daily Orange File Photo

Especially during the month dedicated to the history and advocacy of LGBTQ people, it’s clear what the community needs most extends beyond the conventions of Facebook rainbow banners and Twitter hashtags. It needs leaders who are willing to take a stand and start conversations to change people’s minds — a dialogue that starts with education.

When it comes to sexuality and the LGBTQ community, knowledge and understanding is at the root of progress. SU and its LGBT Resource Center already work to expose students to diverse ideologies and viewpoints. But SU should make these educational opportunities more accessible for more students—and it needs to start from day one.

SU’s new student orientation program is in the process of creating a diversity reading program that would help “deepen understandings and forge relationships across racial, ethnic, religious and other lines,” according to short-term plans from the Chancellor’s Workgroup on Diversity and Inclusion. Similarly, the student involvement fair can increase its efforts to promote LGBTQ-friendly clubs and organizations on campus so students are exposed to a more diverse community as early as their first semester.

Outside of academia, SU’s University Union and University Lecture series can bring a greater audience to queer individuals by giving them a platform as lecturers and guest speakers. And these opportunities can help ensure even more students make it to demonstrations and discussions that evoke conversations about LGBTQ acceptance.

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Transgender activist Laverne Cox speaks on campus in 2014. | Daily Orange File Photo

As explained by Loren Cunningham, the prevention and education director at Syracuse’s Vera House, Pride Month is an important time to not only celebrate the history and progress of the LGBTQ community, but to remember what progress still needs to be made.

“Increased visibility of and celebration of marginalized and oppressed communities begins the process for greater acceptance and less oppression by dominant culture,” Cunningham said. “Advocating for and protecting the civil rights of people is very important, and speaking up on these issues and in support of LGBTQ people and their families is needed.”

So while big cities like New York hold massive parades and events, and even central New York puts on an annual Pride festival, queer Americans who struggle with their sexual orientation or gender identity need to know they have resilient support in smaller communities. As a nation — and as a university — we need to make that support louder and clearer than it has ever been before.

Kelsey Thompson is a junior magazine journalism major. Her column appears biweekly. She can be reached at katho101@syr.edu.

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