Pride Alliance emphasizes ally development
Jai Smith was interested in finding an organization that was different from those he had explored in the past.
Smith, a sociology junior, found ASUA Pride Alliance, a club associated with LGBTQ affairs. Now the club director, he said that Pride Alliance is not only a social organization for gay members of the community, but provides leadership opportunities and on-campus education.
""I have had a lot of students reach out, questioning their sexuality and asking for resources,"" Smith said. ""Students who are new to campus reach out to me, which is really rewarding.""
Smith said he has spoken to students who don't identify with the LGBTQ community, but who are interested in learning more about it.
He said that in the past year there has been a strong emphasis on increasing ally development and support for the club.
Pride Alliance meets every Friday at 3 p.m. in the Center for Student Involvement & Leadership on the fourth floor of the Student Union Memorial Center.
Smith said identifying with the LGBTQ community has made him a target for hateful behavior.
""I can walk down the street and not be identified as gay, but if I express myself or wear something less masculine then that's when slurs occur and violent actions start to happen,"" said Smith.
He said that he has been the victim of such slurs, and one in particular had a large impact on his life.
During Coming Out Week this semester, while handing out fliers on the mall for a reading of the play ""The Laramie Project,"" someone stopped in front of him and said, ""all you ever do is this gay shit on campus and we are sick of you running your sexual orientation down our throat.""
He then called Smith a ""faggot"" and walked away.
Smith did not respond to the student's remark, but stood in silence for a few moments after.
Another incident happened in 2006, he said, when a friend of his was beaten by his roommate because he was openly gay.
""More education needs to happen and that's why we are here and have impacted students already,"" Smith said.
He said that he knew he was gay at age five and came out to his family and friends at 13.
Jennifer Hoefle, the program director for LGBTQ affairs, said, ""as a member of the LGBTQ community myself, it is particularly powerful to make a difference in the lives of LGBTQ students to help them develop as leaders, to help them educate and grow effective allies, and to work with them to create a more inclusive campus environment.""
She said the mission of Pride Alliance is to foster a safe environment so that LGBTQ students can thrive at the UA.
Pride Alliance impacts students by maintaining a resource center that offers a supportive social and academic environment to LGBTQ individuals, as well as their straight allies, Hoefle said.
She said this past week during Transgender Awareness Week, Smith and many of the members of Pride Alliance set up a display on Heritage Hill to honor and mourn the 162 transgender individuals who were murdered in the last year due to anti-transgender hatred.
Kira Johnson, an English freshman, said that within the last year the club has received a lot of support from the community, for the most part.
""Religious groups on campus, on the other hand, aren't very supportive,"" she said. ""Everything Brother Jed (an outspoken evangelical on campus) does is offensive — his strict attitude towards the LGBTQ community, basically telling us that we are going to hell.""
She said she discovered the club during Coming Out Week, and was looking for some way to get involved in a community she was familiar with.
Johnson said she has never been personally attacked for being a lesbian, but has received occasional slurs and stares.
A pet peeve of hers, she said, is when people say ""that's so gay."" She said there are many more suitable words in the English language to express the same sentiment, without using the word ""gay"" as a derogatory term.
Johnson realized that she was a lesbian as a sophomore in high school. ""It was a very freeing experience, like you can finally be yourself,"" she said.