At 15, I told my family and friends that I was a proud gay man. They welcomed my new self-discovery with open arms. However, I was troubled that I could not find anyone like me at home in West Virginia, nor could I find a space where I could be comfortable about my sexual orientation. So I wrote a proposal to start a gay-straight alliance at my high school. Our principal denied the club a charter, citing that it was inappropriate and would promote special rights for one select group of individuals. My motivation, however, was just to assemble a group of people who could understand each others’ discomforts, promote tolerance, and come together to offer one another support.
Unfortunately, these kinds of experiences are common among LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) students who come to Beloit College from different parts of the country. But our College has a valuable resource to ease these discomforts, which is in a colossal blue house on Church Street: The Alliance House.
The Alliance’s mission is to engage in activism, educate others, and serve as a safe space for all who enter the house. Since I have been living there, our community and our purpose have undergone a profound transformation.
During my first semester at Beloit, members and friends of the Alliance began recognizing the challenges faced by transgender students. We hosted an educational meeting about transgender issues, and we later held a memorial service for transgender victims of violence. Several weeks after these events, I was elated to see that a new recognition of transgender issues had caused academic discussions and conversations outside the classroom.
Our club did not want to stop there. We had never fully realized the many discriminatory obstacles transgender students faced, whether through housing at the College or medical care in the Beloit area. We started discussions toward lobbying for gender-neutral housing, a gender-blind housing option that creates a comfortable space for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students. Our community began fueling more discussions by hosting an open forum, featuring members of the trans-community. These steps caused student leaders to take action and, recently, send a proposal to school administrators for a pilot gender-neutral housing program so that students of non-conforming gender identities would not feel the discomforts of being bureaucratically assigned a gender.
This is why organizations such as the Alliance are necessary for our student body, and the reason the Alliance is a defining feature of my Beloit College experience. As we recognize that Beloit College is a community of its own, we must also see the contributions of groups like the Alliance. Its members go to meetings in a blue house, they remind us of the rights of forgotten people, they advocate for those who can’t speak for themselves—and they might even deck themselves out in a rainbow once in awhile. But they also shape our Beloit experience and bring us into the real world with a new perspective on acceptance.
Ian Hedges is majoring in international relations and minoring in English and health and society. He lives in the Alliance House and serves as the Student Policy Chair for the Beloit Student Congress.