Gay-Straight Alliance Summit
Erin Davies was mortified when vandals spray-painted anti-gay slurs on her Volkswagon Beetle. But not for long. Davies, a lesbian graduate student living in upstate N.Y., turned the hate crime on its head by leaving the graffiti intact. Then she set out on a 58-day, consciousness-raising trip across the United States and Canada, using her vandalized car to broadcast the need to improve the gender-identity climate. One year later, she painted it the colors of the rainbow to signify her pride in her gender identity.
This is just one of the inspirational stories shared during the third-annual Gay-Straight Alliance Leadership Summit. Hosted by Dickinson College and organized by the Harrisburg LGBT Center Coalition’s Common Roads project, the daylong event offered Dickinsonians, community leaders and area high-school students a welcoming environment in which to share their experiences and learn about LGBT (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender) and straight-ally issues and resources.
Throughout the day, Dickinson faculty members and representatives from area organizations shared stories, led group discussions and answered questions about the pride movement; self-identification; leadership and advocacy; the history, science and politics of the gay community; body image; self-defense; and strategic planning for college GSAs. Special workshops for community-organization leaders addressed related legal issues, strategic planning, advising strategies and workplace concerns [article continues below].
As the event's keynote speaker, Davies advised summit attendees to embrace diversity, take a stand against homophobia and find creative ways to change the climate of sexuality, gender identity and gender expression.
Messages such as these are helpful for students who identify themselves as LGBT, or are questioning their gender identity, as well as for the organization leaders who help them, says Paula Lima-Jones, director of diversity initiatives.
“For those in the community, events that create space to share stories and connect—safely and openly—are few and far between,” says Lima-Jones. “We hope that students and professionals who attended the summit leave with a set of ideas and skills to create these safe spaces back home in their schools, workplaces and neighborhoods.”
Photos by A. Pierce Bounds '71
Story by MaryAlice Bitts