by Jessica Carreras
Tiff Thompson had a fairly easy time coming out – and she wants to make campuses safe for other students to do the same. The 22-year-old Hazel Park resident is doing just that as co-president of Wayne State University’s GLTBT Alliance and co-founder of the school’s Gender and Sexuality Resouce Community.
1) You recently organized a S.A.F.E. training at Wayne State University. Why is it important to make sure that LGBT students have allies at school?
I have been trying to get the S.A.F.E. training at Wayne State for over a year. I was inspired to get some sort of ally program going – especially for the faculty and staff – after an incident in one of my classes. I was in a social psychology class and the topic of homosexuality came up in class. The professor asked everyone to give their thoughts and opinions on the topic – an open ended question. Everyone started raising their hands and saying things like, “homosexuality is a mental illness,” “you choose to be gay” and “it’s a lifestyle.” When everyone was done blurting out their misinformed opinions, the professor did not correct them. It was pretty upsetting hearing all these things about yourself and then the professor – the educator – did not do anything. This, along with other similar experiences which I and my friends have had, is proof that an ally program is a necessity to the campus. WSU thrives on diversity, and LGBT issues should not be left behind!
2) You just celebrated your two-year anniversary of coming out. What was your coming out experience like?
Overall, I have had a pretty good coming out experience. April 10, 2007 was the first time I had told anyone about my true sexual orientation. I remember going home after that and I was sitting in my room by myself with the lights off. I felt horrible about myself. I didn’t think I would ever be able to get through telling everyone in my life. To my surprise, most people were very positive about it. All my friends were supportive of me, some cheered when I told them. It was exciting finally being able to share my real stories about crushes I had and not some made up story about a boy. Coming out to my family was a bit more challenging but still not too bad. My mom has had and still has some issues with it, but she is really trying to learn more, so she can be more accepting.
3) As someone who came from Canada and now lives in the U.S., how do
you think they compare in terms of LGBT acceptance culturally?
I think that when comparing any type of political topics between the U.S. and Canada it is important to know that there are differences. I see Canada as a much more liberal and progressive in general compared to the U.S. Sometimes I think of it as Canadian conservative is equivalent to American moderate. And with a country that tends to lean more left, I feel there is significantly more acceptance of the LGBT community in Canada. There are a lot of privileges I have back in Canada that my American friends do not, (such as marriage rights, housing rights, job security, etc.). This saddens me and fuels my drive in my activism here in the U.S. Don’t get me wrong, Canada is not free of discrimination, but overall, there is more acceptance culturally and socially.
4) You’re very involved with LGBT activism on campus. How did you get
started on being an activist?
I came out to everyone in my life fairly fast. When doing so, I took a huge interest in learning everything I could about the diversity within the LGBT community. It was this interest and learning about some of the negativity that often gets thrown towards the LGBT community that was my driving force to become involved as an activist. I feel that one of the biggest problems is ignorance and lack of knowledge. If someone doesn’t get out there and try to change things, nobody will.
5) What LGBT issue is next on your agenda for WSU?
There are a few that are of equal importance. Right now our mojor effort on campus is a petition to include gender identity in the non-discrimination policy at WSU. This was something I at least wanted to get started before I graduate this summer. I started to collect signatures on the Transgender Day of Visibility. The Gender and Sexuality Resource Community has taken on the challenge and we have gotten well over 300 signatures already. Once we get enough, we plan on presenting them, along with our argument to have gender identity added to the policy, to the board of governors. I am also presenting on the GSRC at the National Conference of Undergrad Research in Wisconsin next week, which will help the GSRC network on a national level.
To learn more, visit http://gsrc.wayne.edu/