GLBT network plans to launch ‘safe space’ program in res halls

A student group is targeting residence hall students and staff about GLBT issues.

There has been a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender presence at the University for more than 30 years, and this fall, two student groups have been representing this segment of the University population.

The newest of the two, the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Allies Network, became an official student organization this fall and has set out to target residence hall staff and students on issues the GLBT community is concerned about.

“We’re trying to create allies in the ‘res’ hall, so we don’t have to put up with hate crimes and such,” network co-president Rebecca Roberts said.

“There is a general atmosphere of discomfort on both sides: straight people who are not comfortable with their sexuality and GLBT people who haven’t come out yet,” Roberts said. “We’re working to educate students and create an atmosphere of acceptance.”

Becoming a student group has provided the network with greater access to University facilities and the ability to have a table at Coffman Union.

At the moment, it works with other groups to promote GLBT events, such as the National Coming Out Week, which took place during the week of Oct. 11. It also organizes activities to promote an atmosphere of acceptance, including movie nights and dances, such as a Halloween dance and a Valentine’s Day dance.

“The Halloween dance was a big improvement over last year,” said Karin Baty, vice president of the network. “Last year, we had 15 or 20 people; this year, we had 40 or 50. That was really exciting to see.”

Roberts said dances are a popular way to bring people together.

“The Valentine Dance, or ‘Second-Chance Sweetheart Dance,’ is a chance to go with a same-sex person you didn’t get to go with (to) a dance like prom in high school,” Roberts said.

Trent Tollefson, co-president of the group, said, “It’s probably our biggest turnout of the year.”

The organization is also taking part in the Aliveness Project, a nonprofit group that works with people who have HIV or AIDS, providing clinical work, counseling and a shelter. The group is planning on baking cookies and sewing stockings for the project.

‘Safe space’ program

The network has larger goals in mind, though. Next semester, it hopes to implement a “safe space” program, it said.

Though there is no underlying organization leading the creation of the programs, there are several “safe spaces” on other college campuses across the United States, and each was created with similar principles in mind.

The programs train people to understand GLBT issues and help students who are coming out or who have GLBT-related problems.

And this is essentially what the network said it plans to do at the University starting in spring.

“I was thinking it would be something where people would come to us at the beginning of the year,” said Baty, who is the principal organizer for the program. “But our adviser thought we’d be going out to ‘U’ employees and training them instead. We’ll probably end up doing both.

“After going through the training, you’ll get a sticker on your door indicating the area is a safe space,” Baty said. “People can come talk to you, come out to you, whatever.”

Initially, the program will focus on community advisers in the University’s residence halls. However, Baty said, it is possible the program could expand to train other University faculty members.

Anthony Bettendorf, the group’s adviser and Pioneer Hall director, said all the feedback he’s heard from students and staff members has been positive so far.

Nicole Fritz, a first-year student living in a residence hall, was one student with positive feedback.

“With all that’s going on in our country right now, I think it’s great that there’s a solid group on campus like the GLBTA Network. In order for people to be treated equal in this country, we need to begin to understand and accept,” Fritz said.

Bettendorf said the group has the potential to pursue other activities in the future.

“They could do a lot of political action or a lot of work with the community,” Bettendorf said. “It all depends on the direction of the group.”

Freelance Editor Steven Snyder welcomes comments at [email protected]