Bemidji State Students and Faculty Team Up for National Coming Out Day

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In recognition of National Coming Out Day, the Phoenix, an LGBTQ + student club at Bemidji State University, will host a Coming Out Day 2021 panel at 6 p.m. Monday in the Beaux Arts Ballroom. .

“In the past (the panel has) been more geared towards BSU students,” Phoenix co-chair Icarus Lott said of the panel. “This year we are treating it more like a community event.

Open to the public with a mandatory mask, the panel will be made up of five student panellists who will discuss their coming-out experiences.

The term “coming out” refers to the process by which a person accepts their sexuality or gender identity and shares it with loved ones, as defined by the Northwoods Queer Outreach of Bemidji. Those who do date may do so as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer / questioning, or asexual among other identities that may remain constant or change over time.

With the panel being open to the public and in person this year, the club aims to connect with the wider community to help more people who may be struggling with their gender or sexual orientation or other issues that may arise. coming out.

“It always feels like there are two communities in Bemidji,” Lott said. “There’s the college community, then the rest of Bemidji, and it looks like there’s a line in the sand. We really want to get rid of it. “

Following the club’s participation in a Bemidji Pride event on August 28, the club took note of the community’s support and wanted to continue the dialogue regarding queer experiences in rural Minnesota.

“It looks like the Bemidji community is very open to hearing about the queer community and what we do,” said Phoenix co-chair Caitlin Stern. “So opening up (the panel) to the community is a really important and really exciting step. “

Stern, along with several other Phoenix members, mentioned that not everyone’s experience of coming out is the same and that there are many assumptions about who is in the Bemidji community.

“Coming out is different for everyone,” Stern said. “We can be in the same community and know each other, but everyone has a different experience because they maybe had a different support system growing up.”

The aim of the panel is to highlight these different experiences and to offer educational resources to those who attend.

“Some people who question their identity don’t know what the term is and don’t know where to find that information,” Lott said. “This is essentially the work that we have undertaken. To provide these resources to people who need them or want to support someone.

Group efforts

The Phoenix were unable to host a panel in October 2020 due to COVID restrictions and low membership numbers, although they were able to host a “Breaking the Silence” virtual panel in April 2021. They also remained active by offering Safe Zone virtual training for other student organizations at BSU.

According to the Safe Zone Project website, trainings are opportunities to learn about LGBTQ + identities, gender and sexuality, and to examine biases, assumptions and privileges.

Stern and Lott became Phoenix co-chairs after Coming Out Day in 2020. At that time, only two club members were active.

Currently, they help lead a rotating group of 36 members each week, alternating between virtual and in-person meetings.

“We passed the (Center for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at BSU) on our first meeting, which was one of the best issues we could have,” Lott said of the first meeting. of the 2021-2022 school year.

With the highest level of membership, the group has extended its meeting invitations to Northwest Technical College students. They also launched a separate advocacy committee to seek opportunities for community improvement.

The club saw greater participation in community events, including a presentation at Bemidji Pride and a march in the BSU reunion parade on September 25, for which they won the award for best student entry.

Supported by co-counselors and BSU psychology professors Kathryn Klement and Kate Larson, who also co-lead the Northwoods Queer Outreach, the club has expanded its programming and is collaborating with other student organizations.

Beyond the Coming Out Day sign, they will be hosting their first annual silent art auction fundraiser from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on October 14 and 15 at the American Indian Resource Center.

Donations are accepted until Tuesday, October 12 and, if interested, donors can contact [email protected]

The club is also co-hosting a lake shore clean-up from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, October 16, at the foyer behind the Lower Hobson Memorial Union with the Students for the Environment and American Fisheries Society clubs.

Looking ahead to the next semester, the club would like to offer more in-depth training on the safe zone, organize a safe sex panel including gay men, collaborate with the Student Center for Health and Counseling for mental health training and organize a show. of dragsters.

“The Phoenix is ​​currently extremely active,” Klement said before detailing the club’s other collaborations with the Black Student Union and the Council of Indian Students. “(Larson and I) follow (the Phoenix) asking, ‘What can we do to support you? We are just in awe of what they are doing.

Northwoods Gay Awareness

In addition to being full-time professors and co-advisers from Phoenix, Klement and Larson’s participation in Northwoods Queer Outreach began after their April 2020 funding application at the Minnesota State System’s 5th annual Shark Tank Open.

According to a statement, 64 project idea presentations were pre-recorded and submitted to panelists for review, with 21 selected for innovation funding. Two BSU locations were selected, including one from Northwoods Queer Outreach, which received a small seed grant of $ 9,974 for the 2020-2021 school year.

Since then, NQO has strived to provide LGBTQ + educational resources and professional training while creating a presence in the community.

While there is currently no physical space for NQO, they hope one day to have a separate location near the BSU campus for LGBTQ + students and community members with housing difficulties.

“He would be available for emergency housing. The idea is that there would be an equipped kitchen, a full-time staff member to be a stay-at-home parent, a meeting space, a computer lab… ”, detailed Klement.

Another support they are working on is providing scholarships for gay students as well as emergency grants, although different funds are likely needed for these initiatives in accordance with the funding regulations of the Minnesota state system.

NQO submitted a second innovation funding application for this year, which helped them compensate work-study student Casey Johnson, senior from BSU, who is in charge of NQO’s online presence.

“It was really cool when our first person connected with us from a Google search,” Larson said when someone searched for queer and trans resources in Bemidji. “We’ve had more interactions like this since.”

Unable to apply further for this specific grant, NQO will explore options for further institutional level support from BSU to cover its budget for student workers, resources and training in the future.

“We’ve heard time and time again about queer and trans students struggling financially,” Larson said. “What motivates us is wanting to create a space or a mechanism to raise funds to give to students.”

NQO was also present at Bemidji Pride with Klement mentioning that “one of the disadvantages of being gay in Bemidji is that you have to look under the rocks (to find gay people). Going to Pride and seeing so many people, even if they’re not from the queer community, was great.

Klement also detailed a climate survey conducted at BSU in April, funded by the First Year Innovations grant, which focused on queer / trans issues and diversity.

The results of this survey will be presented at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology conference in February 2022.


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