DeKALB – Ryan Mishler said there is much more to the LGBT community than the rainbows and stereotypes associated with it.
Mishler, a junior at Northern Illinois University, said one of the main goals of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Awareness Month is to break down the misconceptions people see in the media.
“It gives students who are not part of the LGBT a sense of how diverse we are,” Mishler said. “We’re not all the same.”
Throughout April, NIU will host events free to the public to educate and start discussions on issues facing the LGBT community.
Molly Holmes, director of the LGBT Resource Center at NIU, said she is excited for the inaugural LGBT Alumni Panel scheduled for today at 7 p.m. in the Holmes Student Center. Holmes said the panel of former NIU students will give advice on college life, the job search process, and the effect that being out has made at NIU and in their workplace.
“My job is to make sure the university hears their voice,” Holmes said. “Our mission is to create a safe and supportive environment.”
To the university’s credit, officials, students and professors have become more accepting and supportive of LGBT students, Holmes and Mishler said. Mishler pointed to the board of trustees' recent policy change to include the terms “gender identity” and “gender expression” in the university’s nondiscrimination employment clause.
“There is so much diversity and respect for other people’s opinions on this campus,” Mishler said.
Freshman Jesse Guice is also impressed with the university and surrounding community during his short time on campus.
Guice, who identifies as a transgender man, said he was nervous when arriving on campus, especially after living a year in Germany where the LGBT community is highly accepted. But after participating in the university’s Straight Talk Speakers Bureau and active LGBT community, he was pleasantly surprised.
“I was expecting it be a lot different in a small town,” Guice said. “But it’s very open here.”
Despite progress, hurdles remain for LGBT students.
Guice said dorm rules can create uncomfortable situations for transgender students.
Graduate student Brianna Dark, who is heterosexual, said some groups still are not accepting of LGBT students, but she has seen progress since 2006.
“There is a lot more collaboration,” Dark said. “One thing we definitely strive for here at NIU is inclusion.”
Holmes said she hopes to see more community collaboration such as Youth Outlook, which provides support for LGBT high school and middle school students in DuPage, Kane and DeKalb counties.
She said more community involvement and education will lead to more acceptance, less bullying and, hopefully, equal rights.
“Equality is more than just marriage,” Holmes said. “But we hear about that fight for gay marriage all the time, and it’s a reminder LGBT people are not treated as equals to their straight counterparts.”
Events at NIU
First NIU LGBT Alumni Panel – Today from 7-9 p.m. at Diversions Lounge, Holmes Student Center
“Down-Low” Disclosure: A Panel Discussion on Race and Sexuality – Tuesday from 6-8 p.m. at the Illinois Room, Holmes Student Center
Heterosexual Privilege: Unseen Benefits that the LGBTQ Community Doesn’t Receive –
Wednesday from noon to 1 p.m. at Holmes Student Center – 305
More April events can be found at www.niu.edu/eas/Calendar.aspx