In honor of LGBTQ history month, the College of William and Mary’s Center for Student Diversity held its second annual LGBTQ intergenerational dialogue event Oct. 11.
The event connected 12 students, faculty and staff to discuss the community’s lived history and experiences across the decades.
“This conversation came through talking with a lot of students about the reality that in queer communities we often don’t have queer parents,” CSD Associate Director Roxie Patton said. “Our history, our narratives, our stories are often lost, unless we have people who are writing books about that specific time period.”
The group started by discussing the impact of the legalization of same-sex marriage and debated whether activism placed in this effort came at the expense of other issues impacting the LGBTQ community.
Modern languages professor Emeritus George Greenia spoke of his own experience at the College with legal recognition for benefits.
“It sort of takes the wind out of our sails if we have been mainstreamed, normalized,” Greenia said.
“It sort of takes the wind out of our sails if we have been mainstreamed, normalized,” Greenia said. “We are now married, but I’m grateful for it. I fought a 20-year battle here on this campus for domestic partner benefits. We got them now with no legal challenge to that.”
Greenia said that his marriage of 32 years allows people to understand the nature of his relationship, whether he is trying to get a gym membership for his husband or healthcare.
“I feel like I got a position of strength,” Greenia said. “I am arguing from something that is accessible to them. They recognize marriage as something that is always been part of their world. So, if I say that I want a membership for my husband, we can start talking about these things as a normalized function in an environment that it has never been normal before.”
Patton said that the focus on marriage equality allowed progress on other issues to slow, especially with transgender and employment rights.
“I felt like oftentimes younger LGBTQ folks got roped into being like this was the most important thing before employment rights, or protection for transgender folks, or talking about hate crimes, or the fact that hate crimes have still gone up in the last ten years against LGBTQ people,” Patton said. “I felt like, yes, this is a really great thing and I’m glad it’s moving forward, but I felt like where we lost our steam was pushing for was some of these basic rights to safety and sense of wellbeing.”
Assistant Director of Health Promotion Eric Garrison M.Ed. ’94 also discussed the importance of referring to LGBTQ people as family.
Garrison said that in his generation, that family often met at bars, which led to a prevalent drinking and smoking culture.
“That was where our family met,” Garrison said. “Now, family meets in Sadler. They meet here — spaces that weren’t safe for us.”
When discussing mental health and the LGBTQ community, Maya FarrHenderson ’20 said that the heavy drinking and smoking environment created a negative culture for dealing with mental health issues.
“In the generation directly prior to mine, I feel like a lot of the community was a bit of enabling environment to bad mental health coping mechanisms, especially with substance abuse and alcohol abuse,” FarrHenderson said. “There are so many queer spaces that are centered still around bar culture.”
Greenia reminded the group about the importance of LGBTQ spirituality, as it intersects with mental health as a form of coping.
“We should remember that many of our gay brothers and sisters are deeply spiritual,” Greenia said. “It’s part of their emotional strength. There is where a lot of healing takes place, including in the mental health range. We have access to the full range of human experience.”
After the discussion, Garrison said that his takeaways from the discussion were hope and gratitude.
“As much as I grow from having older people to talk to, I grow from having younger people to talk to.” Garrison said. “I am a firm believer in reverse mentorship.”
FarrHenderson left the event with a similar attitude.
“Having a chance to sit down and talk with people who are older than me and have paved the way for me to be as out and proud as I am and have that ability is always fantastic to have those kinds of conversations since it is rare that I am able to,” FarrHenderson said.