As more and more gay-straight alliances are popping up throughout Utah high schools and colleges, changes are being made in structure and services offered by the groups, and more people are attending meetings.
At Weber State University’s GSA, weekly meetings are held as well as coffee and movie nights, and there is monthly STD testing on campus. The Dixie State GSA can attract up to 30 attendees and the group focuses mainly on education and awareness throughout St. George. And the Utah Valley University Spectrum, their version of the GSA, is receiving recognition from the University for being one of the best clubs on campus, and the group members are lobbying to bring non-discrimination policies to the school.
“We are trying to change the way people view us and make everything more visible,” Frey Seagrove, the co-chairperson at the UVU Spectrum, said. “It’s tough being in Utah County, but we’re making a lot of improvements and gaining some serious ground.”
The Spectrum has led the fight to have UVU protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in its employment practices, Seagrove said.
“They listened to us, but the administration told us that it might appear too liberal if they were to add those in,” Seagrove said. “We made sure they knew this was not an issue that was going away. We’re going to fight on this until we achieve it.”
The group is a mixture of political activism and social gatherings, attracting different crowds for pajama parties and political causes, like the I Am Equal project which came to the UVU and attracted about 150 people, Seagrove said.
The WSU GSA went through a number of changes throughout the year, but now the group is back and more active than ever, said the group’s president, Turner Bitton. Each week social activities are held on Tuesdays and Fridays, and once a month there is a Saturday night event. The GSA also played a key role in attending meetings and advocating for a non-discrimination ordinance to be passed in Ogden, protecting against bias in the workplace and in housing.
“We’re here to provide a social outlet for LGBT people in Ogden and we are also a politically active group,” Bitton said.
The GSA board has goals for finding sponsors and is looking for donors in Ogden and throughout Utah, Bitton said. For more information find Wildcat GSA on Facebook.
The Dixie State GSA is working on educating straight allies throughout Southern Utah and is hopeful that as people become educated, there will be greater acceptance in community, Erick Fields, the GSA president, said.
“I feel most of the problem with homophobia is not knowing, and by educating them maybe we can help them understand and except more,” Fields said.
The Dixie GSA helps provide HIV testing on campus, which is one of the ways that Southern Utah residents can access quick and simple STD testing, Fields said.
“College years can be a difficult and wonderful time for people and we try to help people come out of their shells. I love watching people make friends, and having a space where they can feel comfortable with who they are. For many, this is the first time and place where they can feel like that. It’s really special,” Seagrove said.
While gay-rights legislation is being debated in the nation’s Congressional halls and throughout city council chambers, it’s the grassroots organizations that focus on the well-being that can really tip the scales, Seagrove said.