by Jessica Carreras
Justin Lippi wants to help people heal. At 22 years old, the Michigan State University psychology and and philosophy student has already won an award for his work with LGBT issues on campus. And after graduation, he plans to take his motivation further to continue to push for LGBT equality.
1) You recently won the Campus Impact Award for your work on LGBT
issues at MSU. Tell us a little about your work on campus.
I like to hold discussions on problems I see the community facing. For instance, we held a ‘future of the movement’ event after last spring’s ruling on domestic partnership benefits. I also work to raise awareness and build community and to take care of the community. In this vein, we organized to raise awareness of HIV testing by having student leaders get tested. There is a lot of energy for LBGT rights activism on campus, but there has to be someone who steps up to the plate and uses that energy to make change. After the ruling on Proposition 8, I decided to organize the East Lansing JoinTheImpact.com protest to help people channel their anger into something productive.
2) How did you get interested in LGBT activism?
I come from a small, rather conservative town. I was afraid to come out in any way, shape or form until I made it to MSU. The lack of social support led me to question everything around my identity and through that I gained a working knowledge of the arguments around LBGT issues. Often people’s ignorance is astounding regarding LBGT issues, and it is hard to be friends with someone or feel like a member of society when so many are belligerantly ignorant about who you are. Once I came out enough, I realized I also do not feel physically safe being ‘out’ most places in Michigan. Coupled with the fact that I view both former President Bush and my congressional representative Fred Upton as both rather anti-gay made me realize that if I want things to change, I couldn’t bank on the authorities to do it. I’ve realized that it is my job to do something if I want change.
3) How is the campus climate for LGBTs at MSU?
It depends on who you ask and in what context you are talking. Many people are out and have circles of friends that are not entirely queer. Many others are still in the closet. Overall, more students support gay marriage than don’t. On the other hand, walking down Grand River Avenue on campus, people will shout “fag” as they drive by in their cars. At parties, most people are fine with gays, but all it takes is one homophobe. There are hall caucuses in each of the residence halls which serve as social support for people who are coming out. These groups sit on the student government and have influence with the administration and residence life. I think a lot of students are excited to learn about LBGT issues and need someone to educate them.
4) You are also a volunteer for Michigan Equality. Why did you get involved with them?
The fact of the matter is that our actions on campus spill out into the rest of the world, and what happens in the rest of the world affects us on campus. Because of this, I believe it is important to realize we are part of a larger society if we want to address deep issues affecting our community. There is a bubble on campus, and on the surface things might look just peachy for queers on campus. And this is true to degrees, but there is homophobia and transphobia
lurking under that surface, so if our activism is going to have any substantial impact we must look at issues facing the rest of the world. I also do not have an extensive knowledge of Michigan or national politics, and often need guidance about where the queer movement is going. For the reasons listed above, I seek guidance from groups like Michigan Equality.
5) What are you studying and how do you hope to continue your LGBT activism after graduating?
I am getting a Bachelors of Science in Psychology and a Bachelors of Art in Philosophy. I find it fascinating to look at what makes us who we are and how we relate to society. And I think that the end goal of the LBGT movement is the psychological well-being of queer people. I am going through the process of constantly questioning myself, my motives for activism, and how to relate that into society and politics. This is a lot to sort out, and I am not sure exactly what the answer is yet, but I will let you know when I figure it out. I know that LBGT people will never be able to be truly happy until we are full citizens. Once that happens, I plan to become a clinical psychologist so that I can help people heal.
For more information on LGBT programs and resources at Michigan State University, visit http://lgbtrc.msu.edu.