Central PA's LGBT News Source

Creating community is messy

Navigating the complexities

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People often ask me, “What does the LGBT Center DO?” I tell folks about our mission and our programs and the services that we offer. When it comes down to it, though, we are a community center - and at the core of what we do is creating community for LGBTQ+ people in central Pennsylvania.

Simply being a queer or trans person in a society that actively tries to deny our identities and our existence can be incredibly isolating, and we need to be connected with others who have shared identities and experiences in order to survive.

For me, that is the power of what we do at the LGBT Center - being a place where LGBTQ+ people can create community together, with all of the multiplicity of identities and experiences that we bring.

I saw this in March, when the Center held its 11th annual GSA Leadership Summit at Dickinson College, bringing together nearly 400 high school students from across central Pennsylvania to participate in a day of workshops. The excitement in the air was palpable, and you could feel how thrilled all of the students were to be there and to meet other LGBTQ+ students.

At the end of the day during the open mic time, they shared what this experience meant to them. One student said, “Coming here was finding a place where I don’t feel alone and where I feel safe. Don’t take this for granted. I learned so much today and it’s very emotional, this is like the first time I feel like I have a big family.”

In addition to events like the GSA Summit, I also see the power of community through our regular programs - whether it’s the Common Roads youth sharing their “high” of the week as coming to the center, the young adults checking in with each other and offering support, or the Aging with Pride folks enjoying conversation over a game of cards.

Now that we have dedicated spaces for LGBTQ-identified people of color through our Queer & Trans People of Color group, and for transgender and non-binary people through our Passageways group, these groups function as an important and unique way of creating community. Both were created in response to needs expressed by people who hold those identities, and have been developed and facilitated by them.

Sometimes people ask, “Why all of these different groups? Why can’t we just all come together?” Having specific groups based on age or identity is vital because we do not all share the same lived experiences, and some of us hold more power and privilege than others.

My lived experiences, as a cisgender white queer woman who was born in the U.S., are very different from a transgender women of color who is an immigrant. Based on my identities, most queer spaces are accepting of me - but those same spaces may be hostile towards someone with a different set of identities.

Marginalized groups, in particular, need dedicated spaces where they are not under the constant pressure of responding to microaggressions or speaking for their entire group. It is vital to have spaces where people can simply BE, and having dedicated spaces is an important part of that.

When we do come together - over potlucks or film screenings or panel discussions - we must approach those spaces conscious of the privileges and power that we hold, and seeking how we can stand in solidarity with one another.

As a white person, how can I make sure I am not taking up too much space, answering for or talking over people of color? As a cisgender person, how can I not only make sure that I am using the correct pronouns for people, but also change the assumptions that I make about people’s gender in the first place?

Sometimes it means being quiet and listening to someone else, even if I have something to say. Sometimes it means speaking up to interrupt a microaggression. Sometimes it means taking correction and owning a mistake. Sometimes it means correcting someone else. Sometimes it means asking a question. Sometimes it means making a mental note to Google something later.

Creating community is messy - because we are all human beings who bring our own unique set of identities and experiences, privileges and preconceptions, traumas and triggers. We must navigate this complexity as we seek to create a safe and brave space for ALL of our communities - while prioritizing those who are most marginalized.