MARQUETTE - For lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered college students, one of the greatest comforts is to know they aren't alone. Two student-run organizations at Northern Michigan University aim to show that to students, be nonjudgmental and give them a safe place to be with other LGBT students an allies.
OUTLook is a long-standing organization at NMU, with the goal of creating a safe space for LGBT students, faculty, staff and community members, according to president Meredith Gasco. They also strive to be visible on campus and in the greater Marquette area on LGBT issues.
OUTLook has a number of events that they participate in or organize every year: National Coming Out Day, Transgender Day of Remembrance, National Day of Silence and the Drag Show, now in its fourteenth year.
Above, OUTLook president Meredith Gasco participates in a silent protest for National Day of Silence last spring on the Northern Michigan University academic mall. The day, which takes place nationwide, represents all of the LGBT people across the country. (Photo courtesy of Meredith Gasco)
A place for LGBT students is something that NMU really needs to have, according to Gasco.
"I think (without it) it would be really lacking for LGBT students," she said. "I think having support is really tantamount to your mental health. Especially if you are LGBT, you come under attack from so many levels."
A network of like-minded people can make a big difference in the life of someone who might be struggling or just needs extra support, Gasco said.
OUTLook: Meets 9 p.m. Tuesdays in University Center; firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Q&A: Meets 8 p.m. Thursdays in University Center; firstname.lastname@example.org
"It is so important to have a group of friends who think the way you think and feel the way you feel and maybe have been through some of the same things that you have been throug," she said.
But also, just being there is one of Gasco's personal favorite aspects of the group.
"I like most of all that is there. Just being there is a really important part of reaching out to queer people in the community," she said.
A second organization began at NMU during winter semester of 2010. When Victoria Hornbostel began her first semester at NMU last winter, she couldn't find exactly what she was looking for in an organization, she sought out the means to begin her own club and Q & A - Queers and Allies was born.
"A lot of other people I talked too felt the same and they wanted another group on campus that was a little bit more social," she said. " We are more of a social group and there is no pressure of getting stuff done."
The goal of Q & A is to allow LGBT students at NMU just spend time together, have fun and network.
"It offers a safe environment to hang out with people," Hornbostel said. "If you say 'Nobody is going to judge you,' then it is a comfortable place to be."
Without these sort of organizations, their is the potential for many students to feel lost on campus, Hornbostel said.
"Without an organization that says 'Hey, we're here,' it's hard for people to say 'We're here too,'" she said. "It's OK to say 'I'm out' and if you have support on campus. It's no fun being out with you're not sure if anyone else is. It's a comforting feeling."
The group is still early in its existence, so members are setting some goals and working on their first big project this semester. But the primary focus is still to be a social organization.
"Our main goal is really to have a fun atmosphere," she said. "We're finding some traditions for the club with hoping to obtain the goal of a large turnout. We're really hoping that increases over time."
Everyone is welcome to attend Q & A meetings and they do not require anyone to state their sexual orientation. One of the group rules is to never ask a person about their sexuality unless the indivual offers the information themselves, Hornbostel said.
"We welcome everyone, gay, lesbian, straight, allied. Anybody can show up. We welcome new people and we're just a fun, easygoing group. There's no tie-downs, you can come and go as you please."
The group meets every Thursday at 8 p.m. in the University Center. The room rotates, but it is usually one of the Great Lakes Rooms, Hornbostel said. For more information, contact Hornbostel by e-mail at email@example.com.
Claire Abent can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.