On Saturday, the LGBT Center hosted a Queer Athens Community Welcome at the Athens Community Center to unite queer members of Athens and Ohio University students.
The day before, the center hosted a virtual version of the event to broaden the reach to regional campuses. The in-person event was held in the multipurpose room from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. and served as an introduction to the LGBT Center’s resources as well as a way to form connections between queer individuals in the area.
Luvina Cooley, a junior studying anthropology, said the event was intended as a family-friendly occasion where queer individuals and co-conspirators could meet one another and bond.
“This event is really a space where students, faculty, community members as a whole are able to just come together, meet each other and socialize,” Cooley said. “We're hoping that this is the first event of many. It's really just to form connections between people.”
Micah McCarey, director of the LGBT Center, said the inclusion of Athens community members at these welcome events is intended to amplify the outreach of the center’s resources.
“We include the communities where our campuses exist as communities that we want to involve with programs and we want to serve,” McCarey said. “We are excited to facilitate connections among new and current LGBTQ+ community members who live in Athens.”
At 1 p.m., the participants were asked to introduce themselves to the larger group — sharing their name, their pronouns, their majors and any various interests that they felt comfortable contributing to the group as a whole.
Maddie Moore, a senior studying social work, said these small introductions can greatly help queer OU students to feel a sense of belonging on campus after being isolated for a long time due the coronavirus pandemic.
“It's so exciting when we have new Bobcats at OU, and I think (these connections will) bring a lot of optimism and positivity to the community,” Moore said. “Because with COVID happening, and us being online for so long, so many people feel disconnected to the queer community as well as to the college experience in general. So, I think it's going to just help us all get together and feel more like a community and more like a family and just a little more in touch with ourselves and with others.”
The participants within the event were invited to mingle with one another, sharing their experiences inside and outside of the LGBT Center and exchanging contact information. The groups were able to listen to music, have some refreshments and, ultimately, get to know one another.
After this event series, McCarey plans to hold more family-centered events to facilitate intergenerational discussions of queer identities to further the understanding of LGBTQ+ experiences.
“I think sometimes LGBTQ communities are too fragmented when it comes to age differences and students only like to help students,” McCarey said. “There's so many opportunities to learn from people who have navigated their LGBTQ identities at different times. So, hearing the stories of folks who really contributed to LGBT rights in the ‘80s and ‘90s, we really want to make sure we value the perspectives and voices of everyone, regardless of their age.”
Cooley said the connections built within these welcoming events will further connect the greater queer community in Athens to the queer students at OU.
“The center, while being directly affiliated to the university, it's really for everyone in the area,” Cooley said. “And I'm really excited to be able to reach out and start forming these connections with community members.”