PRIDE Hosts LGBT Panel Discussion

On October 11 (National Coming Out Day), People Respecting Individuality, Diversity and Equality, or PRIDE, held a panel in the Gilchrist Pub. LGBT Across the Generations was a panel of older members, sharing their experiences with the students over cookies and juice. The panelists included Penny Gardner (lesbian and President of the Lansing Association for Human Rights), Mia Tioli (trans woman and Lansing resident) and Jody Valley (lesbian and advice columnist for Between the Lines newspaper), and William Sawyer-Todd (former member of LINC, precursor to the Lansing Areas AIDS Network, and current Chair of the East Lansing Human Relations Commission). Each gave individual testimonies on their respective experiences: when they first realized their true feelings, coming out to friends and family, meeting their significant other and taking on the world. According to the panel, East Lansing is much more accepting of LGBT culture than many other places. Did you know that at one time, Lansing area code 48912 had more lesbians than San Francisco? East Lansing was not, however, always as accepting as they are now. William recounted an occasion where his and his gay activist group tried to hang up a sign promoting their group and were harassed by a group of men. What’s worse is they couldn’t call the police: authority held a strong dislike of the LGBT community at the time and would not have helped the situation. After each panelist shared their life experiences, the floor was opened up for questions from the audience. One audience member asked what it was like to finally be out and the panelists all agreed: it was a weight off the shoulders, liberating, and made it easier to move forward. Another audience member asked how the panelists felt about LGBT issues in the government (gay marriage, don’t ask don’t tell, etc.). “I don’t think Republicans should be sticking their noses in my bedroom, and I don’t think Democrats should, either,” Mia responded. Lastly, an audience member asked how the panelists met their significant other. William gave a beautiful story of exchanging rings with his husband Michael, who was in the audience, in the MSU botanical gardens during New Years while fireworks illuminated the night sky. The students were clearly touched by their love, and many “awww’s” were audible in the room. As the event came to an end, the panelists gave some advice: don’t be afraid to be who you are. Be comfortable in your own skin, and love whoever you feel attracted to.

–Devyne Lloyd

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