Rainbow Connections

December 09, 2016

Students, Alumni, Administration Team Up to Support Queer Community

For the past thirty years, the Stonewall Resource Center (SRC) has served as a safe space for the campus’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning community and their allies. In addition to community space, the Center offers a 2,000-volume library of queer literature. It is located in the lower level of Younker Hall, a residence hall on the north side of campus.

Student-Run Center Supports Bevy of Colorful Groups

The SRC also offers institutional support for nearly a dozen queer student organizations, which range from the serious to the silly. Some, like Queer Mental Health Group (QMHG), Transgender Advocacy Group (TAG), and Queer People of Color (QPOC), aim to promote activism and form community around specific subsets and intersections of queer identity.

Other groups are more playful, like All Boys Cinema (ABC) and Lesbian Movie Night and Organized Procrastination (LMNOP). In addition to hosting regular queer-themed movie nights at the SRC, ABC/LMNOP humorously co-opt Grinnell’s obsession with acronyms.

Groups shift from year to year, depending on student interest and involvement. “Last year, somebody realized that we didn’t have an active ‘men who like men’ group, so they started one,” says Lily Galloway ’17, SRC director. “They called it the Wilde Milk Society, after Oscar Wilde and Harvey Milk. It’s one of our most creatively named groups.”

Once approved by the Student Government Association, each group gains a spot on the Queer Leadership Council and is encouraged to plan activities during Pride Week and Queer Cultures Week. In prior years, these weeks have featured workshops, free HIV testing, body positive photoshoots, and keynote speakers like famed trans activist Janet Mock — to name a few.

For many Grinnellians, queer and straight alike, the high point of Pride Week and Queer Cultures Week is Drag Show. This biannual night of raucous, inclusive, gender-bending performances is sponsored by QPOC, and all proceeds are donated to organizations that advance social justice. Last year, funds went to a local reproductive health clinic; this year, to protestors of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The SRC Looks Forward

While the SRC has made great strides in the three decades since its founding, it still faces obstacles—both practical and ideological. Looking forward, Grinnellians are eager to secure the Center’s future for the next 30 years and beyond.

According to Galloway, top priorities include increasing the Center’s accessibility and visibility. With the recent and upcoming improvements to campus, Galloway would like to see the SRC move from its current, dated location to a newer spot that is more easily accessible to individuals with disabilities as well as to faculty, alumni, and other visitors.

“The fight is never going to be over,” says Galloway, “but hopefully we can be a small part of providing resources that [queer individuals] need, on an institutional and social level, to deal with the social shifts in attitudes that aren’t going to come in our lifetimes.”

Activating the Queer Alumni Community

Chris Wilde ’88 and other alumni are eager to help current students achieve these goals.

When Wilde was a student, he participated in the protest that led to the creation of the SRC in 1986. Thirty years later, he is encouraged by the progress he has observed on campus.

“As a Grinnell student, I was sort of naïve in thinking, oh yeah, someday we’ll be free,” he says. “But in those moments in the ’80s, it didn’t hit home in the way that it does now, when I come back to campus and see things like Drag Show, which is now this established tradition and one of the focal points of the year.”

Despite these victories, Wilde is quick to point out that much work remains to be done. In particular, he would like to strengthen connections between the campus community and the queer alumni base.

Rather than sit back and wonder “what if,” Wilde set out to create change. “I learned activism at Grinnell, and it altered my DNA in that way,” he explains. “In the spirit of what we did in the ’80s, I want to be active. If you don’t see the change that you want, be the change.”

Wilde partnered with Dan Davis ’16 to launch a private Facebook group for self-identified queer alumni. He has also worked with current SRC staff and the Office of Development and Alumni Relations to ensure that Grinnell Connect, the College’s new networking platform, offers options for users to connect over shared identities. Users may search for mentors by affinity groups, and alumni can indicate that they are willing to mentor students from underrepresented populations.

Grinnell is also expanding its efforts to facilitate face-to-face connections among queer students and alumni. At the 30th anniversary celebration for the SRC, current students, staff, and faculty mingled with alumni, learned about the history of queer life at Grinnell, and discussed life after Grinnell through an LGBTQ lens.

Like the SRC itself, the anniversary weekend fulfilled a variety of purposes: some events sought explicitly to educate and activate, while other, less structured activities created space for cross-generational community-building.

“We’ve got such amazing talent within the queer alumni pool at Grinnell that has gone untapped until now,” Wilde says. “People want to be a part of this, and they are really excited to be able to finally be out and open, and also to connect with other people.”