SRU’s GISO launches two LGBT affinity groups

same sex couple

March 31, 2016

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Entering his freshman year of college, Kevin McCarthy was like so many gay men before him - searching for his identity and looking for role models to help guide his development.

But just like so many before him, McCarthy found that none existed.

kevin mccarthy

   McCARTHY

Now McCarthy, and other members of the Slippery Rock University President's Commission on Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation, is hoping to change that situation for LGBT students at SRU through the creation of two new affinity groups on campus: "LGBT+," for members of the LGBT community; and "LGBT+ Ally," for friends of the LGBT community.

Affinity groups are alumni, students or allies of a university who are drawn together based on common interests and shared experiences.

"Like a lot of students, it wasn't until I got to college that I really discovered my sexual identity and orientation," said McCarthy, senior business intelligence analyst in planning, resource management and assessment and a GISO member.

"That was the first time I started having serious discussions with myself about who I really was. The first person you have to come out to is yourself and understand that you know you're different. The question is what does that mean and what does that look like?

McCarthy, who identifies as a member of the LGBT community, said that LGBT persons have long struggled with understanding their identity and how it intersects with society as they are coming of age.

"You look to adults who resonate with you to see how they behave in society and then model that behavior and try to follow in their footsteps if they're successful," McCarthy added. "It's easier said than done for LGBT students because there aren't large numbers of examples for them.

"By putting these affinity groups together, we're establishing the building blocks for a better community and better outreach among our current LGBT students, those alumni that identify as LGBT and those alumni, faculty and staff that are LGBT allies."

McCarthy said that while the idea for the LGBT affinity groups isn't new, the time is right given the current campus climate.

"It isn't 1980 anymore," said McCarthy when describing the University mindset. "SRU has really transformed itself into an LGBT-friendly campus with the Pride Center, GISO, Rock Out and a growing group of LGBT faculty and staff, as well as allies.

"It's the perfect time to reach out to our alumni, remind them of all that our University offers the LGBT community and engage and encourage them to come back to the campus for events and to get acquainted with our LGBT students and share their life experiences with them."

However, while the time may have come for such affinity groups, pulling alumni into them will take a little work.

According to McCarthy, issues of gender identity and sexual orientation are inherently more difficult to observe because those facets of a person's life are not necessarily visible. For instance, a person may be transgender, but still live an outward-facing life as the sex they were born.

"Part of the challenge is spreading the word that people can opt in to these two new groups through the alumni database," said McCarthy. "We're asking people to self-identify, but we also understand how intimidating such a proposition can be.

"Being out to the world can still put LGBT persons in a precarious situation in terms of work environment or housing in the real world. Because of that, we're not just going to send out an announcement that says '"Hey, we're pretty sure you're part of the club...why not come and join us?' Most would probably see that as an invasion of privacy. Not everyone is ready or able to be out or able to do so.

"Someone might be a gay male and live with their partner, but do so quietly. They may take offense to someone reaching out with a mailer that speaks to this issue. That's why we asking for self identification."

So where does that leave the group in terms of building such databases? It looks like they'll be going back to the "old school" way of doing things.

"As we have no comprehensive list of LGBT alumni, we're relying on faculty, staff and students who remember individuals that they knew were open about their sexuality and 'out,' said McCarthy.

"We'll first get in touch with those people - the folks we can look back at and say without question, 'Yup, he was partnered; she was a lesbian, etc.' We'll be culling our brains and really be putting together a grass roots effort to get these groups off the ground."

McCarthy also pointed out that those individuals who do choose to self identify and join either group will not have to worry that the information will be shared with anyone or anything else as the group lists will be handled in a confidential manner with only select University personnel having access.

"Our students have helped to move this campus forward in terms of LGBT issues and community and we'd like our LGBT alumni to stay connected and keep them in the loop," said McCarthy.

"We want to invite them back not only for things like Homecoming, but for LGBT specialty events such as 'A Night Out' or our special graduation celebrations. We want them to feel welcomed and we want them to be engaged.

"If we have LGBT alumni that are successful, that are out and proud and went through the same struggles that our current students are facing, connecting and sharing those stories should resonate with students and show them that they too can be successful, happy and have what they want with the ability to go wherever they want in life."

Persons interested in joining either affinity group should contact SRU's Office of Advancement at 724.738.2004 or advancement@sru.edu.

MEDIA CONTACT: Robb King | 724.738.2199 | robert.king@sru.edu