“I really do believe that gay rights are civil rights and that does impact everybody.”
Jennifer Suidan is not gay. But no group of people has a greater place in her heart than her gay friends. It was one of those friends who introduced Suidan, who will start her junior year at Central Michigan University in the fall, to gay rights activism.
“My freshman year, in the second semester, they wanted to get rid of the office of gay and lesbian programs on campus because we were in the middle of a huge budget crisis,” Suidan, 19, recalled. “There were petitions going around and one of my friends handed me the petition and he’s like, ‘You need to sign this because they’re trying to get rid of this office.’ I know there are schools that don’t have an office of gay and lesbian programs or anything similar and I think it’s very important for us to have so that people feel comfortable when they’re at school. So what I did is not only did I sign the petition but I took some of them and I had people filling them out all over the place and I went to turn them in at a GSA meeting and I pretty much just joined right there.”
Not only did Suidan join the GSA but she quickly became quite active in it. Her first role was as chair of the public relations committee. Now, she serves as the group’s co-president.
“We are committed to making the campus a safe and friendly environment for all LGBT students so we pretty much make sure that everybody knows that they have a safe place that they can go to if they need someone to talk to or if they aren’t really sure, they’re just coming out or whatever, that they have people that they can talk to that they can be with and just know that hey, look, it’s ok, you can be a part of this group and there are people that are going to accept you,” Suidan said.
In the past year, the GSA hosted a town hall meeting on the proposed federal marriage amendment, organized a candlelight vigil for Matthew Shepard and hosted National Coming Out Day and Pride Week activities. In addition to her work with the GSA, Suidan also serves as the co-chair for the Human Rights Campaign’s membership committee, which is a division of the organization’s Michigan Steering Committee. She had never heard of HRC when another friend asked her to attend a meeting, and just as with the GSA, she jumped in head first.
“After I learned about it, it was only logical for me to make other people want to know about it,” she said. “I really do believe that gay rights are civil rights and that does impact everybody, outside of the fact that all my friends are gay and I have gay family and so it’s very important to me. We’ve seen the civil rights movement before, and had I been around in the 60s, it would have been something that was impacting me. And I know that if it was me that I would have wanted someone standing up for me, someone in the majority. And since I am in the majority being straight, I think it’s just what I have to do.”
Suidan’s unique ethnic heritage – she’s half Japanese, half Lebanese – probably contributed to her open mind and acceptance of others.
“I was more or less taught that you accept people for their differences and you don’t make a judgment about someone because they’re different from you,” she said. “That you accept people for who they are and if you don’t like them after that, then that’s ok. But you have to give people a chance, you can’t just not like someone because of who they are.”
It’s a lesson that Suidan teaches to others, including her boyfriends.
“My last boyfriend was pretty cool with it,” she said. “It kind of gave him a chance to look at something that he had never really seen before. So now he has met gay people and he understands a little bit about what gay people are like and that they’re not all big flaming queens, that they are like him, in a sense, and so it kind of made him an ally, whether he knew it or not.”