A Time for Reflection
Story By: Mandi Ringgenberg & Jocelyn Waite
Photos By: Xander Fu & Jack Lambert
When same-sex marriage became legal nationwide two years ago, a large weight was lifted off of the LGBT community. But others in the BTQIA+ group say they feel their human rights are still being recognized.
Within the community, gay and lesbian issues seem to take precedence, they say, while different, lesser known sexualities like asexuality and pansexuality often get overlooked.
Gender identity, despite a growing prevalence in the media and even legislative discussions (such as bathroom bills), are often misrepresented and misunderstood. A primary focus or wish for some LGBTQAI+ students is for society to look beyond the binaries that have been established and to educate people on a broadened definition of what it means to be human.
The Issue of Identity
Sexuality and gender is a spectrum (“Kinsey Scale”), and anyone can fall anywhere on it (see sidebar). Identifying as “queer,” however, can encompass different spectrums of self-expression, genders and sexual-orientations.
“For me, my expression is very fluid,” explains Romario Solano Arenas (he/him/his), a graduate student in mental health counseling. “So sometimes I like to be more effeminate. I like to play with my gender expression and other times I don’t.”
He continues, “By me only identifying with one or the other [genders], it restricts me to that,” he adds. “It's also me giving in to this like, system that if you carry the name then you have to play the part. And, that’s not something I want to do personally. I don’t want to play a part. I want to be able to do as I please.”
Others would agree with Arenas that “playing the part” shouldn’t be a concrete statement when it comes to any aspect your identity. Hailey Maltbie (they/them/theirs), junior communications major and radio programmer for EQuAL at Central Washington University, explains that for them, and for those they talk to, “you never have to make up your mind about your sexuality.”
By age 16, Maltbie came to the realization that "the way society decided how I should live is not the way I wanted to live," and explains that, in their opinion, over time your identity is subject to change as you grow and learn more about yourself. How you identify at a particular point in time does not dictate how you may identify permanently, nor does it invalidate how you identify in that particular moment. But Maltbie knows from the people they’ve met or from the general population, that many people “don’t know where they stand” in terms of their identity.
But one of the biggest life lessons for them, they say, was realizing identity can and does change. "How you identify at that point in time, is how you identify. Because if we spend our entire lives trying to fit the thing that we said before, then we’re never going to actually get to be ourselves."
Kevan Gardner (they/them/theirs), a graduate student pursuing a Master’s in Theatre Studies with an emphasis in feminist and queer studies, identifies as “genderqueer.” In the ideal world, notes Gardner, they would love see more gender-neutral pronouns. And much like Maltbie, Gardner doesn't feel constrained by the binary to label their gender with a singular specification.
“I don’t see myself in a gender-binary,” Gardner says. “I’ll be in a place where there’s a lot of trans folk, and people will assume I’m a trans man, and I kind of like that too, because that’s not a neat box. I like that people are picking up that somehow I’m not like ‘a man.’ I can play with masculinity, I can play with femininity.”
Gardner previously worked with several awareness campaigns, including Planned Parenthood in Spokane, the Spokane AIDS Network, and the Seattle Pride Foundation, where they were the regional manager for roughly 12 years. Throughout their extensive career, Gardner worked with many different individuals and says they noticed a need for gender equality.
Over the past several decades, Gardner says they have noticed a progression in race and gender issues and a heightened awareness about them. “The ideas has always been there, we’re just more aware of it now,” says Gardner.
Inclusivity at Central
Before same-sex marriage was legalized in all 50 states, Central strived to be as inclusive as possible, and today the Campus Pride Index organization ranks it in the top 50 schools in the nation and it has a five-star rating for LGBTQ-friendly campuses, according to the Central website.
In a 2014 interview, President James Gaudino stated: "We want all people to be free to be who they are and to express their opinions and their culture… It makes us a more welcoming campus, and it also makes us stronger and a more interesting place to live and learn."
Clara Cranney (she/her/hers), freshman music performance major, and a transgender woman, says Central's welcoming atmosphere is what drew her to the campus when she first visited two years as a junior in high school. Cranney comes from a town that's much less progressive and accepting than Central, so picking a university that supports diversity and brings LGBTQ advocates like Laverne Cox to campus to speak attracted her.
Cranney says that Laverne Cox, Orange is the New Black” actress and trans rights activist, is her personal role model in the media. She admires how Cox continues to use her media platform to advocate for the trans community. When Cranney first visited Central in 2014, then a junior in high school, she initially came only to hear Cox speak at the university, but after noticing the welcoming and inclusive environment at Central, she quickly learned that it was the university she wanted to attend.
Ryan Zetty, (he/him/his), a freshman pre-med major, comes from a similar background as Cranney and found Central and EQuAL great places to feel included. "I feel like our institution - the admin and all - make a point to make the campus a comfortable and inclusive campus. President Gaudino even visited an EQuAL meeting I attended, which made me feel even more comfortable. However, that doesn't necessarily reflect on the social politics of students here (and maybe even teachers), but that's a different topic.”
Ashley Reynolds (she/her/hers), began her presidency for Central's EQuAL in fall 2016. Her goals at the start of the academic year were to grow the organization and improve attendance and awareness on-campus. As a recreation and tourism major with an event management specialization, she is currently working on one of the biggest events at Central: Pride Week.
But when it comes to talking about LGBTQ+ topics, she says it's important for her to maintain inclusivity and teach students "how to socialize within the queer community." Events like Queer coffee chats, "Q&A with a Gay" or various game nights help achieve this. For those wanting to learn more about the Queer community, Reynolds says, EQuAL is always a welcoming organization to stop by at their office in the Student Union or at their weekly meetings.
"I went to [EQuAL] fall quarter because I did GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) fairly actively at my high school and I wanted to continue that," Zetty says. "It was comforting to have a safe space like this, seeing as I was already nervous about coming to a small town as a gay man. I was nervous because of the socially conservative stereotypes that surround small towns, even though I knew the campus was diverse from what I saw at my orientations.”
It's important to recognize that in queer spaces, some people are part of multiple minority groups. Arenas notes this in what he calls a ‘double minority identity.’
“We’re queer and we’re also people of color; there are these stereotypes that are already perpetuated in both. We’re not just dealing with whatever white, hetero-normative America is putting on us, but it’s also with whatever our ethnic identity-- our minority ethnic identity is presenting.”
Justin Guzman (he/him/his), senior psychology major, created the group Queer Trans People of Color (QTPOC) at Central in order to create a safe space for other students like him that often felt pressured to choose only one aspect of their identity to embrace within other ESC organizations on campus. QTPOC celebrates the lives of Queer and Trans People of Color and focuses on creating an outlet for them to go to and be themselves.
Dani Curiel (he/him/his) does not want the QTPOC group to compete with EQuAL, but rather work alongside them and gain the same recognition at a university level. “I would love for this club to be just as accepted as EQuAL is accepted, you know, and not see it as something separate of EQuAL, but a club for queer and trans people of color.”
“I don't want it to be a sub-club. I want it to be a club,” Curiel adds. “This is how you build bonds; this is how you build trust and relationships… It's just those connections that I want to see in the future, and I think we're doing that.”
(Mis)Representations in Media
Universities can provide substantial support for LGBTQ+ communities, but for some, it's still an on-going process to be 'out' even in their respected communities. For some students like Guzman, they have to take their own initiative to create a safe space for themselves and their community. But for others who are not a part of the queer community or simply want to know more, researching online and pushing the media to be more inclusive can help start more conversations and raise awareness about self-expression and identity.
In the media, those who don't identify as straight or cisgender feel underrepresented. Film and television often portray hetero-normative (or straight-identifying) and cis-normative (viewing cisgender individuals as the norm) as common themes. This lack of representation in media can been seen with asexual (‘Ace’) individuals in particular.
According to Maltbie, who identifies as asexual, seeing characters or TV personalities such as Valencia on "Sirens" or Tim Gunn on "Project Runway", who also identify as Ace was important to them. "Representation in media matters for a few reasons," says Maltbie. "The first being that if you spend your entire life not knowing how you identify and not thinking that you belong anywhere, and you see somebody on TV who has the same feelings and thoughts as you do, I cannot emphasize the impact of realizing that you are not alone, particularly with bisexually, asexuality, pansexuality."
Maltbie says it’s crucial to have representation in the media because not every one in society may identify with the heteronormative. "Those are things that don’t get talked about on media near as much as they should, so it’s really easy to feel like no one understands you. And even to find a fictional character that has the same thoughts and feelings as you do is calming. To know there are other people out there that feel the same way you do, you just haven’t met them yet.”
The stereotypes run deep. Guzman notes: “Speaking not from personal experience, but just narratives that I've heard of other LatinX students and ChicanX students, they're fetishized from white queers in terms of their masculinity. And so as brown people, we're expected to be more masculine, and that's sort of the attraction that goes through… And it usually runs off of racial undertones, like, ‘Oh, you're Mexican. You must be really… macho.’”
The intersection of identities for queer people of color is not always understood or respected by those who are not a part of their community. To have the media portray QTPOC in a positive light that is reflective of the QTPOC experience is important.
It's that one time of the year when everyone from all walks of life can celebrate who they are. Filled with parades, drag shows, festivals and more, all across the globe, Pride is widely celebrated. And at Central, it's an experience some haven't gotten to experience elsewhere.
Promises of a good time and accepting atmosphere and it doesn't matter if everyone who attends identifies as queer. "It's that one time out of the year that we can all get together and make a statement about who you are as a community," says Cranney.
Similarly, Maltbie says she is grateful to be able to express herself in a college setting and Pride provides that. "It's really exciting to be at a school where you are even allowed to do [Pride].”
Reynolds adds, "Pride week is that time of year where we get to celebrate who we are in a way that is fun for all of us involved. It really shows what it means to take pride in something important to us.”
- Contributions By: Ryley Bruun
Terminology from the Human Rights Campaign website:
*Asexual- "The lack of a sexual attraction or desire for other people."
*Bisexual- "A person emotionally, romantically or sexually attracted to more than one sex, gender or gender identity though not necessarily simultaneously, in the same way or to the same degree."
*Cisgender- "A term used to describe a person whose gender identity aligns with those typically associated with the sex assigned to them at birth."
*Gender-Fluid- "According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a person who does not identify with a single fixed gender; of or relating to a person having or expressing a fluid or unfixed gender identity."
*Genderqueer- "Genderqueer people typically reject notions of static categories of gender and embrace a fluidity of gender identity and often, though not always, sexual orientation. People who identify as "genderqueer" may see themselves as being both male and female, neither male nor female or as falling completely outside these categories."
*Queer- "A term people often use to express fluid identities and orientations. Often used interchangeably with "LGBTQ."