Resident assistants, on-campus organizations seek community in coming out

By Adri Pray

Resident assistants and on-campus organizations honored National Coming Out Day last Tuesday with a social event to provide a sense of queer community. 

As a white transgender man, resident assistant and key event organizer August Fowle recognized his inherent privilege compared to other members of the community, but said he still felt erased and excluded by Emerson’s queer community. However, compared to other queer events held on-campus, Tuesday’s event represents a community that isn’t entirely white, cis, and able-bodied, noted the junior communications major.

He recalled advocating for an event like this as a first-year student, and now, as a resident assistant, could create an on-campus space for Emerson’s queer community.

“We want to hang out and be in community and try to have the best time we can,” Fowle said. “But also [have] an event that very clearly wants people who aren’t always directly invited to events like this.”

Emerson topped the Princeton Review’s list of LGBTQ-friendly colleges in the US in 2018. The ranking has since dropped, as the college sits at number 19 on the list. Transphobia, Fowle said, isn’t always apparent at Emerson, but is subtle and constant. 

“A lot of [trans people] express the same fear of events that aren’t queer-focused of being afraid to walk into them, wondering if we’re going to be the only trans person there, what’s going to be said, and what kinds of things are going to erase our struggles,” he said.

Abbie Langmead, the president of Emerson Poetry Project—which hosted an open mic on Tuesday—recognized that Emerson is many students’ introduction to a predominately-queer space. The students do a great job of fostering a community, she said, but she called on administration to do more for underrepresented students.

“[Emerson is] not doing enough for [its] students of color. [Emerson is] not doing enough for its low-income students,” she said. “It is a safe place to be gay in this community, but if you were any other marginalized group, it begins to falter.”

Tuesday’s event was meant to celebrate the existence of queer identities and come together as a community, rather than focusing on the act of coming out itself. Reflecting on his own coming out, Fowle said it’s a situation that puts queer people in potential harm. 

“I’m somebody who’s always had a hard time on National Coming Out Day because of my experiences with coming out,” he said. “My thought with the event was ‘Okay, let’s give people a space to be in community with other queer people at an in event on National Coming Out Day that has nothing to do with coming out.’”

To foster an environment of community, Theyta President Alix Broderick encourages confidentiality at meetings to keep each individual out of identity-based harm. The organization agreed to participate in the event as a show of solidarity.

“I realized this is actually really important because there are people who are scared to tell their families ‘This is who I am,’” Broderick said. “Coming out for me is extremely important, at least in my opinion, being able to show who you are and be who you are and be who you want to be.”

Fowle invited Chastity Bowick, the executive director of the Transgender Emergency Fund of Massachusetts, to speak at the event. She spoke of her journey of self-expression and encouraged others to share theirs, also advocating for students to get involved with transgender and other queer issues.

“We celebrate you as taking the step forward to being here today listening to my story, but it’s beyond the work that I’ve done,” she said. “I feel and I know that we are the future of this country and if we can help the most vulnerable of our communities, we should be able to help anybody.”

After moving to Boston to pursue her gender-affirming process, Bowick encountered discrimination from landlords, coworkers, and people she came into contact with every day. She lost jobs and housing because of her identity, eventually becoming homeless before finding sanctuary within the Transgender Emergency Fund.

“I want you to realize the opportunities that we have for our communities and what we can do to build ourselves up,” she addressed the students. “I would not be here today if it wasn’t for organizations like the Transgender Emergency Fund, which literally saved my life, and in return, has given me the opportunity to save lives.”

To better aid the community, she recommended getting involved and volunteering with different groups like the Transgender Emergency Fund, bagly, a trans youth oriented support group; or the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, a support group for all trans individuals.

Emerson also offers LGBTQIA+ resources on its site, including the Social Justice Center, Emerson’s on-campus advocacy group, name update information, deadnaming information, a guide to LGBTQIA+ flags and symbols, a video explaining pronouns, and a page dedicated to affirming gender identity.