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Bobi Foster-Grahler and Psychology professor Jo Anne Geron remember when the Fort Steilacoom campus had different groups and spaces for the LGBTQ community over the years.

Staff would like to see club’s return, Puyallup campus offers assistance

June 17, 2017

Foster-Grahler said there used to be educational forums on LGBTQ issues for the staff, which later was available for students. Foster-Grahler and former faculty member Sharon Cramner started the Safe Zone Sticker Project, where some of the faculty and staff would wear symbols indicating that they were safe people for LGBTQ students to approach.

But much of the Gay Straight Alliance clubs didn’t last, Foster-Grahler said.

“I think it's because the students are here for maybe two years and they're just kind of getting their feet on the ground. I think also with the LGBTQ community there's a stigma that is attached to that,” she said. “One of the reasons I really wanted to do the Safe Zone Sticker Project was because students had expressed some pretty blatant hatred against (LQBTQ) at Pierce College. People getting their cars keyed, people being yelled at in classrooms about 'you should die' kind of stuff and faculty not being able to stand up against that. So I think there's that fear factor that can come in.”

Social stigma, a lack of continuous club leadership and the challenges of starting and maintaining a club also have an impact, said Rhiannon Webber, student leader of the Gay Straight Alliance at the Puyallup campus.

“One of the main challenges (of starting the Puyallup campus club) has been that there was no legacy information from any of the previous clubs and that we've had to figure things out as we go, without really knowing if certain things have a chance of success,” she said. “Another challenge has been that there have been major changes to the way that the Office of Student Life at Puyallup interacts with clubs, and how clubs are expected to interact with (Student Life), since this last fall (2016), so both the (Gay Straight Alliance) and (Student Life) are still working to figure out what works best.”

Changes could have a positive benefit.

Foster-Grahler said, “Our student government has changed the rules on clubs. It's not so you have to do these 17 things or we'll kick you out. Now it's like there's four things and ‘Let's just try to keep you going.’”

The need for an alliance is very apparent, Webber said.

"There are definitely LGBTQIAP+ people at the Fort Steilacoom campus who would like a Gay Straight Alliance to form, and there are people at Puyallup who take classes at Fort Steilacoom who would like a similar space there that we have here."

April Spaulding, program director at SafePlace in Olympia, said, "I think finding community is really important, so like surrounding yourself with other people who identify as LGBTQ. I think that's super important, especially because coming out can be a really hard time with families. Sometimes people's families reject them. If you're still living at home, sometimes families kick you out of the house. That's why around 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBTQ...finding community is probably the number one thing to do to kind of create that secondary family."

Educating the Pierce College community on LGBTQ issues is equally important to creating safe spaces, Webber said.  The Puyallup campus has made strides in this department.

“We've been able to spread a lot of information about the LGBTQIAP+ community,” Webber said. “This year, we've had a series of panels wherein student volunteers share their experiences as related to various topics, such as "Gender 101,” common myths and misconceptions, and lesser known identities. After each one, there are people who approach us with more questions and we often hear that people are thankful we explained something they were afraid to ask about.”

Foster-Grahler is an advocate for LGBTQ education on the FS campus.

She said, “I would like to see the college more blatantly insisting on a culture of inclusivity and talking about issues because my belief is, no matter if we talk about it or demonstrate it or show it in the classroom or in the hallways, it's still there. We still have LGBTQ staff, we still have LGBTQ students, community members that come in. It's like people being afraid of talking about Black Lives Matter. So if we don't talk about it, it's still in the room with us. So why don't we have an informed discussion and learn from each other? I think that having a presence of the LGBTQ community helps our community be stronger.”

Webber said she is available to help the Fort Steilacoom community start a Gay Straight Alliance or  LGBTQ club. Contact her for assistance through her email,rwebber2864@smail.pcd.edu.

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