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by Tana Michaels
Long before becoming program coordinator for Ypsilanti’s Eastern Michigan University’s Your Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Resource Center, Kate Brindle had another passion: Theater.
Majoring in theater and arts as an undergraduate at EMU, Brindle performed plays with a theater troop called The Project YES Players, which stands for Youth for Equality and Safety. With them, she performed coming out stories for high school and college-aged audiences.
“Anytime you can see something visually, it helps with understanding,” Brindle said of the performances. “It makes a more powerful impact.”
Since then, Brindle earned her Masters degree in Women’s Studies, studies law part-time and has been program director for Your LGBT Resource Center for three years. The center has been in operation since the mid-90s.
This past year, however, was one for the history books. In 2007, the center was featured in a book published by The Advocate and was successful in amending the nondiscrimination policy at the university. “I think we have a really inclusive campus,” Brindle said. “We were featured in The Advocate ‘College Guide for LGBT Students’ as one of the top-100 LGBT-friendly universities.” The book has a “Gay Point Average” that rates important LGBT issues such as gay-friendly support services, queer studies and the openness of the campus as well as the local community.
LGBT-inclusive policies that were solidified last year also helped the university’s LGBT-friendly status. “It took three years, but we were able to amend our policy to include gender identity and expression,” Brindle said. “We were the second university in Michigan to do that (behind Western Michigan University).”
Since then, the University of Michigan and Michigan State have both done it,” she added.
The policy change was spearheaded by a student-led initiative. According to Brindle, the students at EMU are active in creating change. The LGBT center itself was named, ‘Your’ LGBT Resource Center as a result of a drive by students. “They wanted it to feel like their space,” she explained.
Moreover, EMU students are always ready to fight for what they believe in. “There are occasional anti-LGBT visitors on campus, faith-based groups that are disruptive with their in-your-face protests.” said Brindle. “The last time they came, the students built a human barricade. They didn’t want that kind of hate on our campus and they locked arms, surrounding the protestors.”
In the community, the students were effective in getting a nondiscrimination ordinance passed in Ypsilanti after a local printer refused to print fliers for an LGBT event. The students saw the inequality and stood up to it. “We try to inspire our students to be activists and, if they see injustice, to fight it,” Brindle boasted. “We hope that we prepare them to make change where they feel it needs to be made; to stand when they see injustice.”
For bisexual and transgendered people, the center tries to create more awareness through programs that specifically address those communities. “Every semester we do a trans 101 workshop where we talk about what the word transgender means,” Brindle explained. “It’s a basic workshop where people can come and talk and ask questions.” They also have events to help promote understanding and acceptance, such as the showing of “Beautiful Daughters,” which is the “Vagina Monologues” – but with a transgender cast.
“People haven’t had as much exposure to trans and have a lot of questions,” Brindle said. “But they feel uncomfortable asking, fearing being politically incorrect, so we offer a format that makes them feel at ease.”
Brindle wasn’t always at ease with all of this herself, and remembers her own coming out experience as a college student.
While an undergrad at New York University before going to EMU, she was focused on academics and hadn’t thought much about her sexuality, or sexual orientation. At the time, she was dating a man, but started spending all of her free time with a woman whom she’d just met. “I couldn’t quite figure out why I was ditching my boyfriend to be with her,” Brindle recalled. “There was an instant attraction that hadn’t happened before with anyone.”
After two or three months, Brindle realized the relationship had become more than friendship and she called the woman to tell her. “I had to tell her because it was eating me up inside,” she said. “We were on the phone for four hours because it took that long for me to work up the courage to tell her.”
It took another six months for Brindle to identify herself as a lesbian. Brindle’s coming out was met with support and freedom. “My mom…and my friends were really supportive,” she said. “It was really freeing and empowering.”
When Brindle moved back to her hometown of Dexter, however, she found that things were different. “Back in Michigan the reaction wasn’t as supportive,” she said. “There were comments made in the workplace about LGBT people that let me know I couldn’t be out.”
Still, Brindle realized that her relatively easy coming out story was a far cry from what many go through. That realization is what spawned her work at EMU.
Coming out, Brindle explained, is a tough decision for college students who rely on their parents for support while they’re in school. “Often parents are paying for tuition and that is a huge consideration for students as they struggle with whether or not to come out to them. Their tuition could be cut off and they would be forced to leave school.” she said. “People don’t realize the implications of coming out, especially for college students.”
Luckily, there are resources like Your LGBT Resource Center to help – and people like Brindle to run them. “I wanted to have people’s coming out stories be good ones,” she said. “I got involved in educating people about ways that they can be allies, educating them about challenges faced with people coming out and ways that they can help.”