As students of all ages, genders and backgrounds slowly filled the common space on the third floor of Norris on Oct. 1, the tangible excitement exploded into conversations about everything from the intersection of ability status and the LGBTQ+ community, to gender roles to comments about the rainbow-colored cupcakes and other festive decorations.
Oct. 1st marked the start of Queer and Trans* Empowerment Month at Northwestern, a month nationally celebrated under the name LGBT History Month. Established in 1994, the month commemorates important events in LGBT history, such as the 1979 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. There are over twenty upcoming events planned for Queer and Trans* Empowerment Month, including a series of events during Rainbow Alliance’s Rainbow Week with on-campus performances, speaker events and movie screenings.
The growing popularity of the use of “queer” as an umbrella term to describe any person who, according to Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), “feels somehow outside of the societal norms in regards to gender or sexuality” led to the Multicultural Student Association’s decision to adopt the new name.
Weinberg sophomore Rafael Alejo argued that he thinks using “queer and trans” instead of "LGBTQ+" can alienate allies from attending events. “The word ‘queer’ does have some limitations,” he said.
While some attendees were involved in the Rainbow Alliance, one of Northwestern’s LGBTQ+ student organizations, others were freshmen without prior knowledge of the program or upcoming events. (All students were welcome, regarldless of their history with the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center.) Old students were eager to share their experience with different campus groups, while new students were eager to learn more. The lobby was filled with a plethora of food and music, and every ten or fifteen minutes conversation was broken up by raffle drawings.
“It feels very welcoming. People recognize me from past events,” said Weinberg freshman Che Anderson Justice.
Jordan Turner, assistant director of Multicultural Student Affairs (MSA), introduced himself and talked about Northwestern's unique approach to celebrating LGBTQ+ history. Turner sees the month embued with particular importance following the Supreme Court same-sex marriage ruling, though he believes there is “work to be done in the queer and trans rights movement.”
Charles Kellom, director of MSA, added that the Resource Center now has more resources than ever: The center “doubled in space since its founding in 2000” and has newly hired full-time staff support who are striving to “make the center like a home away from home.”
Turner urged attendees to “think about a pledge you can make to yourself” to carry you through Queer and Trans* Empowerment month.
Some students pledged to respect preferred pronouns, while others promised to attend upcoming events in an effort to spread awareness about trans and queer issues to the wider Northwestern community.
“What do you know? What don’t you know? What is an identity?” Turner asked the attendees, challenging them to take time this month to figure it out.