Are you queer? Are you an ally? Are you just curious to find out more about the LGBTQA community at University of Idaho and in Moscow? Check out the Gay Straight Alliance at UI and get to know some of the amazing people who help make Moscow a more inclusive and educated community.
“The group is open to anybody,” said UI GSA President, Whitney Chapman. “Unless somebody comes into the space and is hostile or [...] if somebody anti-queer comes into the space obviously we’re not going to allow for that.”
UI GSA has between 30-35 active members and meets every Wednesday at 8:15pm in the Student Diversity Center located within the Office of Multicultural Affairs on the second floor of the Teaching and Learning Center. The group’s mission statement reads: The mission of the Gay Straight Alliance is to promote a positive and inclusive atmosphere for all people. The GSA strives to encourage individual growth and understanding by improving support for queer people and allies.
Chapman said GSA and its members have had a big impact on her life since she arrived in Moscow from Southern Idaho in early 2005 and then again in 2010.
“I came out through GSA,” Chapman said. “I’ve met the majority of my friends and social network and a lot of allies that I associate with [...] I think just being able to give queer students a place on campus where they can go and meet and talk about shared experiences is really helpful and is really helpful to academic success. That was missing at Idaho State University; where I went my first year, and [...] the lack of a Women’s Center and real strong queer group was part of the reason I left.”
UI’s GSA has grown in numbers since Chapman became involved. She said enrollment and interests change based on how the active members of the group want to get involved and change things. The group dynamic has changed over time and Chapman said she has noticed a difference between what the group was when she left and came back again: “[The first time I was here] we did an alternative service break trip. We went to Salt Lake City, Utah and worked with homeless youth and did a variety of other service projects while we were there. That solely happened because of the group of students that were involved. When I came back GSA had kind of evolved into a more social group. Right now, we’re somewhere in between.”
UI GSA has several different events they host or help put together every year, including National Coming Out Day (spearheaded by the UI LGBTQA Office), which is Thursday October 11 (today!) and Queer Prom, which happens every spring. Right now, the group is concentrating their efforts on fundraising so they can help send members to the ‘Power of One’ Leadership Conference that happens every spring. Chapman said this conference is definitely where most of the group’s energy goes. Last year, nine members were fully funded and able to attend the conference at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon.
“We’re a little more activisty but try to maintain a more solid social network where people can come and have fun and have a relaxed meeting [...] students’ interests change year to year, semester to semester even, depending on who’s in leadership positions, who’s actually attending the meetings regularly. Those folks usually have more say in what’s going on that people who only come like a couple times a semester,” Chapman said.
Chapman said the goal of UI GSA is to make everyone feel welcome and safe but also to bring awareness to the community that the queer community exists and deserves the same rights and freedoms as everybody else: “There are a pretty large number of students on this campus who are queer students or who are ally students. It’s important for those students to have representation in ASUI, to be recognized as an ASUI group, but also to have a place to go outside of the regular school routine of getting up and going to classes everyday. It also creates a campus environment that is more aware that queer people exist. I think a big part of the existence of the LGBTQA office is because there was a very strong queer student group on campus that was making it very apparent that there is this group of people on this campus. Our university says that it’s all about diversity and so in order to really be all about diversity they can’t not acknowledge the queer community.”