First ever Ally Week at UAF a success

Lex Treinen/Sun Star Reporter
October 23, 2012

Male model and biochemistry major, Ealum Howe, shows off a new-with-tags, Burton vest at the Campus Couture fashion show on Saturday, Oct. 20 in the UAF Pub. All eight models walked four different outfits styled by Arrogantly Shabby, a Fairbanks fashion blog. Outfits were auctioned at the end of the stage by host, Collette Promisedland, as a donation to UAF Gay Straight Alliance. Annie Bartholomew/Sun Star

Publicly kissing drag queens, dressing up as homosexuals from Nazi Germany and discussing the sexual orientation of god were just some of the ways that UAF students raised awareness for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender issues during UAF’s first ever Ally Week, hosted by the UAF Gay-Straight Alliance and the Student Activities Office.

The Ally Week is a nationally organized by Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network with the goal to “support and celebrate Allies against anti-LGBT language, bullying and harassment in America’s schools.” Events hosted included a guest speaker, movie night and ally training.

Every day of the week saw more participation, according to Juan Cruz, an SAO student worker and member of GSA. Peter Pinney the Assistant Vice Chancellor of the UAF College of Rural, Community and Native Education spoke on Monday to a group of less than ten about his own personal history moving to Alaska and coming out and his current involvement with raising awareness for LGBT issues with the GSA.

Tuesday’s “How and Why to be an Ally” presentation was attended by about a dozen people, according to Cruz. According to the group’s definition, an ally is “someone who is not associated with a group of people that faces discrimination, but still supports and advocates for the people of that group.” About 20 people showed up for Wednesday’s movie about a gay teenager struggling with coming out to his conservative family and Thursday’s Safe Space Training brought 25 people. Cruz was impressed with the wide variety of attendees: faculty, staff and students from all departments all interested in becoming an ally. About 35 people came to Friday’s gathering of all GSA members and allies in the Wood Center lounge.

Throughout the week, GSA handed out buttons in the Wood Center with the slogan “Happy Hump Day” and some with a pink triangle, which gay men were forced to wear under Nazi Germany. Nobody interviewed said they saw any specific instances of discrimination at UAF, but many said they had heard stories second hand. “By and large it’s a very supportive community,” said Pinney who has been the GSA faculty adviser for the past 12 years, “I have always felt supported by my colleagues.” A few years ago, some hecklers came to some of the GSA meetings and tried to “proselytize,” according to Pinney, but lately he has just felt positive support. “It’s important for all of us students, staff, faculty, to create a safe place for people to express themselves,” said Pinney.

According to a 2010 study by State of Higher Education for LGBT People, 23% of LGBT faculty, students and staff have experienced harassment at their institutions and even more keep their sexual identities secret for fear of retaliation. Pinney said that he currently is hosting a teenager at his house who recently came out to his parents.

Campus Coture

Saturday’s Campus Couture night at the pub had the largest attendance, though some people may have just been there for the entertainment. Drag queen Colette Promiseland MCed, counted bids for the fashion auction, and performed an opening and closing dance numbers. “It’s not really about gender identity issues,” said Promiseland about her act, “It’s just about entertainment and dressing up.” The muscled, over six-foot Promiseland entered stage in a leopard-skin trench coat and hat but with the urging of the crowd was soon wearing little more than her shirt and heals. For many, it was their first time at a such an event, but they joined in the fun. Amanda Harper, a fourth year Math student won the women’s dance off and credited the wine with helping her step up on stage. “I’m having a great time,” she said, “but it might take some more wine to get me up there again.”

The auction started off slow, with the first few outfits going for less than ten dollars, but the alcohol soon warmed up the crowd to bids of up to forty dollars. The outfits were all taken from donations and lucky finds at the transfer site. In all, the event raised hundreds of dollars for GSA. Cruz said the money will go to continuing awareness programs and bringing up more speakers, including a scheduled transgender speaker in November.

Pub manager Heather Kraemer helped MC and lent the pub’s support to Ally Week. “We’re trying to make the pub a safe place,” she said. Kraemer read some of the messages collected throughout the week in the GSA’s Ally box, which included such revelations as “God is gay, or maybe a woman” and “GBLT community is the cutest.”

Despite the fun, the weeks’ themes were serious and organizers were happy with the turnout. Dozens of pictures were pinned to the Ally Wall on display at the Pub on Saturday of people who had agreed to become an ally. “It shows that there’s actually people here who care,” said Cruz. Cruz and Pinney both stressed the need to continue working with high school GSAs. According to Cruz, Lathrop currently doesn’t have a GSA, but he hopes that UAF’s GSA can get one going there. Cruz also expressed gratitude for those who had agreed to become an ally. “It might not be easy to be an ally,” he said, “People do get bullied, but we can prevent it through training and education.”

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