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Carolyn Kaufman

Organizations including the Center for Wellness and HealthPromotion, Queer Student Alliance, and the Mpowerment project arestriving to create a more open and comfortable environment forTulane students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual,transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning or curious.

QSA, which promotes awareness, tolerance and equality for allstudents, has been operating on campus under various names for 39years and is Louisiana’s oldest continuously-operating gay andlesbian organization.

The WELL funds the Mpowerment project, which began this year andserves gay, bisexual, questioning or curious men ages 18 to 29. TheWELL will also host the first LGBTQ speed-dating event from 10 – 11p.m. Monday in the Kendall Cram Ballroom.

Junior AnnaJane Parrill, senior peer health educator at theWELL, said Mpowerment began as an attempt to encourage healthierrelationship choices and HIV awareness among gay students.

“We saw the lack of a supportive gay community on campus as apublic health problem,” Parrill said. “Gay students end up havingunprotected sex with strangers outside of the student populationwhen there isn’t an accepting social space at Tulane for them tomeet and develop healthier sexual and emotional relationships.”

Freshman Gabriel Desmond, outreach coordinator for Mpowermentand a transgender male, said he was pleasantly surprised with thesupport and acceptance he experienced when he arrived atTulane.

“Tulane is really progressive, which I wasn’t expecting sinceit’s not really mentioned on the website,” Desmond said. “I talkedto [Housing and Residence Life] and they made sure I was going tobe registered as a male here, have a male roommate and be referredto by the correct name. All of my [Resident Advisors] have beenreally good about using my preferred name instead of my birth nameon name tags.”

Desmond said Mpowerment focuses on preventing HIV by building astrong, educated community of Tulane and Loyola students. He saidthe most popular event is the weekly Coffee Night where gay,bisexual, questioning or curious male students are invited togather to watch movies, play games and talk from 7 – 9 p.m. everyThursday night in the Mosaic Lounge in Warren House.

Mpowerment also organizes meetings called M-groups once a month,which are peer-led and designed to educate young men on topics suchas condom negotiation tactics, safe-sex practices and HIVtesting.

Desmond said that though LGBTQ students generally feelcomfortable and accepted on campus, there is room forimprovement.

“I do feel mostly accepted,” Desmond said. “I’ve never reallyfaced any antagonism or hostility from anybody. I just thinkthere’s a big problem with people not being educated. Sometimespeople in administration don’t quite grasp why something I’mbringing up is or isn’t an issue, and it’s a little bitfrustrating.”

Desmond said that he has faced minimal issues while interactingwith students but has felt uncomfortable with questions from someadministrators.

“There is this whole perception that it’s perfectly fine to asktrans people about their bodies because it’s so well known that somany trans people get surgeries, but that doesn’t make it OK to asksomebody that on an individual level, and I’ve run into that a fewtimes,” Desmond said.

Parrill said Tulane students need to become more aware of LGBTQissues and that Tulane should require a gender and sexuality courseas part of the core curriculum.

“I wouldn’t call the Tulane student body accepting,” Parrillsaid. “I would call it apathetic, and sometimes apathy can actuallybe hostile because gay students can feel like they’re just beingignored.”

Tulane alumnus Andrew Duke, who graduated in December and was amember of QSA for the past three and a half years, said theuniversity showed an impressive commitment to supporting LGBTQgroups during his time here.

“My sophomore year, [the Undergraduate Student Government], theWELL and housing sent us to Washington D.C. for pride march,” Dukesaid. “They also sent us to Campus Pride, which is an LGBTleadership camp hosted in the summer. That’s just an example of howsupportive Tulane tries to be. From what I’ve heard from gaystudents at other schools, I’d absolutely say Tulane is ahead ofthe curve in terms of acceptance and equality.”

Duke said QSA hopes to build popularity on campus for the annualMiss Paul Tulane and Mr. Sophie Newcomb drag queen contest. Lastyear’s competition served as a fundraiser for NO/AIDS Sept. 30.

Duke said the student body provided crucial support for himpersonally.

“I honestly have had absolutely no problems at Tulane – none atall,” Duke said. “When I first got here, I was in the closet andvery scared of anything that might happen, but the community hereactually helped me to come out to my family and to my communityback in Kansas. I might be lucky, but I feel like that is a prettyuniversal experience here.”

 

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