Gender identity and sexual orientation awareness more than just an annual reminder at SRU



Sept. 29, 2017

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - In the late 1960s, landmark protests for gay rights took place in Pennsylvania at one of America's most recognizable landmarks: Independence Hall. A group calling itself East Coast Homophile Organizations conducted "Annual Reminders" on July 4, demanding better treatment for gays in American society and law.

At Slippery Rock University, the President's Commission on Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation will use the month of October as an annual reminder of a different sort, to celebrate the LGBTQIA - lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex and asexual - community. However, GISO's mission to address LGBTQIA issues and create a more inclusive and supportive campus goes beyond one month.



"It's an important month, but our commission doesn't stick to only doing awareness-raising, advocacy and educational programming in that month alone, we also collaborate (with other commissions and groups) throughout the year," said Emily Keener, assistant professor of psychology and GISO co-chair.

Two of the more significant days during October include National Day of Coming Out, Oct. 11, and Spirit Day, Oct. 19. The National Day of Coming Out is set aside to encourage the voluntary self-disclosure of LGBTQ individuals; while all students are encouraged to wear purple on Spirit Day to stand against bullying and in support of LGBTQ youths.

October is also LGBT History Month. Under the leadership of Bill Bergmann, associate professor of history, GISO created an LGBT historical timeline poster that will be on display Oct. 16-20 in the Smith Student Center Commuter Lounge. An online version of the timeline is available here.

"The goal is for people to recognize that the LGBT community has been a very vibrant, visible presence within American Society," Bergmann said. "They have worked hard to advance their rights as equal individuals and this isn't a new phenomenon of the past couple decades. There's a deep history."

While researching the project, Bergmann was surprised to learn how significant Pennsylvania was in the gay rights movement, particularly the Annual Reminders that set the stage for further protests, including the Stonewall riots in New York City, June 28, 1969.

The Stonewall riots were a series of spontaneous demonstrations by members of the LGBT community following a police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn, a gay club located in NYC's Greenwich Village.


More current topics related to Pennsylvania law and LGBTQIA rights will be addressed at a GISO-sponsored event, where Rachel Levine, acting secretary of health and physician general for the state of Pennsylvania, will speak at 12:30 p.m., Nov. 14 in the Smith Student Center Ballroom. Levine is the highest-ranking transgender official in Pennsylvania.

There will also be several events throughout the month co-sponsored by GISO in association with other groups such as RockOUT, the LGBTQIA student organization at SRU. Events will include: Straight Talk, 12:30 p.m., Oct. 17 at the Smith Student Center, with a panel discussion featuring LGBTQIA students; the annual Drag Show, 8 p.m., Oct. 18 at the Smith Student Center Ballroom; and interactive showings of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," Oct. 31 (1975 version at 5 p.m. and 2016 version at 8 p.m.) in the Smith Student Center Ballroom.

GISO also will host an invitation-only ceremony to recognize the recipient of its inaugural LGBTQIA Scholarship. The scholarship is open to all SRU students and awarded based on a student's involvement with the LGBTQIA community.

Events aside, GISO is not just about programming, speakers and scholarships, said Keener.

"We're an advisory board. We assess the climate as it pertains to LGBTQIA persons, make recommendations for improvements and advocate," Keener said. "Our mission is to move SRU toward a more inclusive and supportive campus climate that is free of discrimination, intolerance and bigotry."

Keener said recent improvements include transgender students being able to use their preferred name on their diplomas so it matches their gender expression. GISO was also involved in the discussion for all-gender restrooms that have been implemented at the University.



One initiative that is in the works was advocated by the experience of a student member of the commission, Ashton Smith, a senior social work major from Honeoye Falls, New York. Smith is working with University officials to change the student database at SRU so that transgender students do not have to wait for a legal name change in order to have their name in which they identify appear on email, class rosters and other services.

The awareness is important, not only for progress of LGBTQI students but for the general student population at SRU, particularly when students enter careers after graduation.

"We, as students, will eventually build society and our understanding of different groups will help normalize different things and (how people think)," Smith said. "The way (previous generations) were raised is very different than how my generation is being raised ... they don't understand what any of the alternative identities are. They don't really accept it, but since my generation is more aware, we normalize it."

"When you're out in the workforce, you need to be able to work with a diverse population, whether that's your coworkers or clients or patients," Keener said. "There are so many assumptions that people make based on people's gender and presentation that are biased."

For more information about the commission, upcoming events and the LGBTQIA Scholarship, contact Keener or 724.738.2529.

MEDIA CONTACT: Justin Zackal | 724.738.4854 |