“The LBGTRC is a home away from home for a lot of queer and trans students across campus,” says Jesse Beal, director of MSU’s Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, and Transgender Resource Center. “We have a family room, where people are often found napping or watching endless YouTube videos, but mostly just hanging out and connecting with one another and finding community because chosen community is so important to us in the LGBTQA+ community. We do a lot of trainings and workshops.
“At the end of the day, we affirm that LGBTQA+ people on our campus, and in particular, our students, are perfect and whole and complete exactly as they are. And we celebrate, affirm and empower them.”
“We are a resource center, so we're kind of that middle person,” assistant director Oprah Jrenal adds. “Jesse has done a great job of making connections across campus. When a student comes in and they're like, ‘This thing happened,’ Jesse is able to go through the Rolodex of people they know and say, ‘Oh, I can connect you to this human in that college who can support you with making the choice on that or to figure out how to fix that.’
“That's why it's so important that we do all the workshops and trainings and keep our website up to date with a glossary of terminology so that folks who are just sitting in their offices can go, ‘Gee, I heard this word today. What does that even mean?’ Our website has so many resources on it, so if folks really don't want to talk to a human, they can always go to our website and explore more about our community.”
Beal says “the easiest way for faculty and staff to engage with our center is to either attend one of our trainings or workshops or to bring us in for consultation. For students, I think the easiest way to engage is to start with social media like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and our website. Or come to one of our many events and programs.”
Beal and Jrenal explain the importance of pronouns.
“Pronouns are words that we use in place of your name,” Beal says. “Most people have pronouns that they expect people to use for them when they're not in the room, right? The most common ones are the he series, he, him, his, or the she series, she, her, hers. I think it's important for folks to remember that they, them, theirs pronouns have been used as a singular since I think 1375.
“This is not a new thing, but it feels like a new thing to a lot of people because they haven't heard about folks using they as a singular for people who have a non-binary or a transgender identity. I use they/them pronouns. Those are the pronouns I expect for people to use for me when I'm not in their space or when they're talking about me when I'm even in front of them. I've been using those pronouns for a really long time. People can be very helpful in creating an inclusive space for transgender and non-binary folks by simply using the pronouns that we ask you to use for us. All it takes is a little practice.”
“A lot of the pushback will be, ‘How do I even learn what a person's pronouns are?’ Well, you ask, right? You don't assume that you know someone's pronouns because when you assume that you know someone's pronouns, you assume that you know their gender. We don't know that by looking at someone. What you're doing is you're taking cues from their body, from the length of their hair, or sometimes from a name on a list. You're assuming so much from so little when all you have to do is really ask someone who they are and get to know them.
“When you meet that person, actually meet them and leave behind whatever biased stereotype stuff that you might have to try to put someone in a box really quickly. As humans, we want to know as much as we can with as little time spent as we can, right? I want to put you in a box so that I can move on, but that hasn't served people for a long time. It hasn't served all of us for a very long time and it's very damaging, very harmful.
“If folks want to create more inclusive environments, one thing is to take your time and ask people their pronouns and provide a space for them to share them.”
“I want to add one tiny thing to that for folks who are not transgender or non-binary, or who don't use a gender-neutral pronoun,” Beal adds. “The easiest thing you can do to normalize and make it okay for people to share their pronouns is to just share yours. That may happen in your email signature, or it could be, Russ, you could so easily say, ‘Hi. My name is Russ, and these are the pronouns I use.’ That gives me, as a non-binary person in the world, a little bit more space to say, ‘Hey, I'm Jesse. I use they/them pronouns. Thanks so much.’
“The more current acronym is either LGBTQA+ or LGBTQIA+. That's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual. Plus means on and on and on in the rest of the acronym, because the problem with the acronym is we're going to leave somebody out unless we have it go for a very, very, very long time.
“I jokingly call it the ever-expanding acronym. I get to make that joke; I don't know that people who don't belong to the LGBTQA+ community get to. The more inclusive way to have the acronyms these days is to include the plus sign to indicate that there are more identities that are not included in the first set because we are ever growing and we are huge and we are not just one community.
Beal and Jrenal talk about June being Pride Month.
“LGBTQA+ communities are diverse and LGBTQA+ people exist in every employee group, in every racial identity, in every religious group, in every student group. We’re everywhere. I don't say that to sound scary, but we are; we're everywhere. We are so representative of the diversity that makes MSU so beautiful and there are so many ways to engage with us.”
“One of the things we hear a lot is that all of these pronouns have come out of nowhere. It's just that folks weren't paying attention. Folks were under the threat of death and safety and losing jobs and all these different things. Folks were oppressed, or are oppressed, so you're not going to have someone tell you who they are when they can't trust you that they're going to have their job the next day. It's important to understand that we've always been here and we're everywhere, just like Jesse said. I think that's one of the things that I want folks to understand, is this stuff isn't new.”
“Yes, and the language is changing so rapidly. Part of why the language is changing so rapidly is because we haven't been able to talk about ourselves freely and in public for very long at all. Until recently, we haven’t been able to be fully who we are in the world. LGBTQA+ people have existed since humans existed, we just have different language for that all throughout history. This is not a new thing; it just looks a little different than it used to.”
How can we all show and practice solidarity?
“The number one thing I'm seeing right now, given our current political moment, is the need for folks to diversify their media consumption,” Beal adds. “If you're not hearing the stories of LGBTQA+ people, that has to do with what newspaper you read or what movies you watch. Something that everyone can do, that's actually super easy and also fun, is to actually start reading books about queer and trans people, watching films, and learning more about who we are. Because we are you. We are a part of what it is to be human and we exist and we probably exist in everyone's families and communities. Learning a little bit about who we are and our story and our struggle is incredibly vital. I have some film suggestions if anyone's interested.
“A very simple things folks can do on campus is to please put your pronouns in your email signature. That is such an easy way to just do a simple thing that will make a difference and teach somebody something about what it means to be LGBTQA+ in the world. Change your forms, go to a training, don't assume people's gender or pronouns when you're talking to them. Actually get to know them.”
“Take your time,” encourages Jrenal. “You don't have to know everything. Jesse and I don't know everything. I think a lot of folks completely get turned off by the concept of inclusion because they feel like they need to know every single thing before they act at all, and that's just not true. We just need you to show up and to try and when you mess up to apologize and then do better the next time and then do better the next time after that. It’s about progress, not perfection, always. We need folks to start and to keep going.”