The LGBT Center at Ohio University will host its next installment of the SpeakOUt panel July 23 at 5 p.m. virtually.

This summer, the center held the virtual panels May 21 and June 18 and will hold two more: on July 23 and finally Aug. 20. 

Jan Huebenthal, assistant director of the LGBT Center, said the panels are a way for guests to really pay attention to the individual, lived experiences of people.

“The LGBTQ+ community is incredibly diverse, as evident by this really long acronym,” Huebenthal said. “Even though we all belong to the same community, our identities, our experiences are vastly different, from the conditions under which we were able to come out to how we live our personal, professional lives right now. So, it's really a moment for sharing your story and being in conversation with others who are then also able to share their story and their insight.”

Huebenthal recounts the June 18 panel, which was centered on trans students, and feels it to be an incredibly heartening experience to see students being compassionate and supportive to one another. 

“Trans students have been one of our central concerns,” Huebenthal said. “Not concern in the sense of they’re concerning, but it's been a priority for us to make sure that Ohio University is a welcoming space for trans students who often face a lot of adversity in the world, whether that's from their families or from society at large. It was really inspiring to hear people be so reflective about their experiences but also sharing kind of tips and guidance about how you can successfully navigate this world with a trans person.” 

Olivia Copeland, a master’s student in the College Student Personnel Program, is coordinating the summer SpeakOUt series. Typically, the series has been done in classrooms, but now with COVID-19, the structure is an open-forum format where anyone can attend with the invitation. Each session has a structured question-and-answer format between Copeland as the emcee and the panelists. At the end, those who joined can ask questions.

July’s SpeakOUt will center on queer people of color and will have a variety of people of color in the Athens area.

“One thing that I've appreciated about SpeakOUt a lot is that it tries to emphasize that there's not just one story,” Copeland said. “This one, I think, really wants to highlight that specific intersection and kind of tease out the specific joys and struggles of people of color in the community,” Copeland said. 

Talia Potter, a senior psychology major, has been a panelist several times and will be working in the center this year as well as running Spectrum Plus, the undergrad LGBT organization. 

“There's a realistic side where at SpeakOUt, it's not going to be happy-go-lucky stories about people coming out, which I felt was a good thing actually because it makes it very realistic,” Potter said. 

Huebenthal agrees many LGBTQ+ students have supportive families, but some of them don't. He thinks it’s important for the center to recreate a safe space for the students, whether that is virtual or not. 

“The series that we're doing this summer, we wanted to be able to: A, open it to the public, but B, make sure that there's still engagement for people who are interested in helping people in the community,” Copeland said. “And so that's why we kind of took it to the (Microsoft) Teams approach to try and get it open to anyone who wants to have that connection because COVID has obviously made it very difficult to remain attached to the university; everyone's socially distanced.”

The center understands times are challenging for everyone right now and maintains to be virtually open to be a resource. Huebenthal is proud of the center and his team, which consists of himself, Director Micah McCarey and Administrative Associate Becky Arnold to move engagement and community building to an online format. 

“I think we really have embraced the ethos that we are virtually open. And we strive to be as flexible to students virtually as we were physically, so we encourage all of Ohio University’s community, prospective and current students as well as staff and faculty to reach out to ask with any questions,” Huebenthal said. “I think we all understand that this is a less than desirable situation, but we don't have any control over it. So I think it's been really wonderful that (students) really rallied around each other and around our LGBT Center. Because one of the things that we've embraced from the start, it's this idea that social distancing does not mean social disconnecting. And I think, in fact, connecting with one another and building community and remaining grounded in your community is really what's going to get you through this.” 

For students struggling this summer, Copeland would encourage “anyone who wants to know more or to just be in community with people of this community to check (SpeakOUt) out.”

Huebenthal also encourages everyone to follow the LGBT Center, @ohiolgbtcenter, on social media. 

“It doesn't matter how you identify; we don't ask about your identity or your gender or your sexuality when you walk through the door or virtual door,” Huebenthal said. “We really have embraced this idea of radical inclusion, so even if someone just has an interest in learning about LGBTQ experiences, those people are certainly more than welcome. I think that's an important point to make.”