Campus Resources Offer LGBTQ+ Students Support, Sense of Community
Olivia Ferrante Di Ruffano considers herself lucky. She was able to come out to her friends and family members without worrying about their disapproval or her own safety.
“Not everyone can say the same,” she said.
Olivia, president of Howard Community College’s (HCC) Gay Straight Alliance (GSA), empathizes with the struggles many in the LGBTQ+ community endure. That’s why, she says, resources such as Safe Zone allies throughout campus, gender neutral bathrooms, and the GSA are so important to LGBTQ+ students.
Safe Zone is a network of allies committed to providing a welcoming, supportive, and safe environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students, faculty, and staff at HCC. Safe Zones aim to foster an affirmative climate of civility, safety, and support for all members of the campus community. It’s members serve as allies, educators, resources, and advocates.
Olivia says Safe Zone allies and the GSA are key to making students feel welcome and heard.
“As part of the Gay Straight Alliance, I have a place where I know my experiences will be acknowledged, get support when I need it, friends, and a space to engage in conversation,” she said. “GSA meetings are almost invariably the highlight of my week.”
Olivia learned about the GSA shortly after enrolling at HCC.
“Coming from Montgomery County, I knew no one on campus,” she said. “I was lucky enough to have Rachel Adams – one of the GSA faculty advisors – as my instructor in my first semester. She encouraged me to check out the GSA, as I had been vocal in class about LGBQ rights and issues.
“I quickly found friends and a community that I can’t imagine not being a part of now.”
Rachel, a communications instructor at HCC, says she enjoys the opportunity to work with students in the GSA and watch them grow.
“It’s been a real pleasure to serve the campus this way,” she said. “We won Club of the Year last year, and I think I cried for days with happiness!”
She is also proud of the important resources offered to students.
“The Safe Zone committee helps makes sure this campus is a welcoming for all,” she said. “Whether that’s by advocating for all-gender restrooms and inclusive campus policies, or holding Safe Zone trainings to build our community of allies.
“As an advisor I am relieved our counseling center is LGBTQ-friendly. I know that if I send a student there for help, they will be able to meet with someone who understands their identity. I love that we encourage conversations about diversity.”
The importance of Safe Zone allies on campus cannot be understated, she said.
“Even if a student never walks into an ally’s office, they see the rainbow stickers and know there are safe places on campus. Our campus is truly inclusive, and that’s showcased in so many ways.”
This includes the campus’ celebration of National Coming Out Day on Thursday, October 11, 2018 with information tables hosted by Safe Zone allies and co-sponsored by Counseling and Career Services and the Wellness Center. The day celebrates coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or an ally.
“I think people who’ve never had to come out don’t really understanding that coming out is an arduous, ongoing process that is sometimes met with resistance, bullying, and self-doubt,” Rachel said. “Many of our GSA students aren’t out to their families, but here on campus they have a chance to be who they really are and be celebrated and loved for that. I love that HCC joins in the celebration.”
National Coming Out Day is incredibly important to the LGBTQ+ community, Olivia said.
“Those able to come out to families and friends take a major step in recognizing their own identity,” she said. “For those unable to, the day is infinitely more significant. For me, this is a day to bring awareness to the fact that many members of our community cannot come out.”
Want to join the Gay Straight Alliance? The easiest way is to come to the meetings, or events on campus. Fall semester meetings take place every Thursday from 4 to 5 p.m. in SET 109.