Grace Hutchison – The Yellow Jacket
Naomi Wilson didn’t think she was different.
She was just an average 6-year old girl—she loved playing with her friends during school and looked forward to coming home after a day of elementary classes.
In fact, the time she spent at home following school was her favorite part of the day. On the bus ride home, Wilson was filled with excitement. The end of classes signaled that her babysitter would be home waiting for her, ready to play. This time, filled with dress-up, games and imagination, Wilson treasured.
Wilson’s parents thought that her preoccupation with her babysitter was just innocent idolization, but Wilson knew her feelings were more than just admiration.
“My parents thought I wanted to be just like her,” Wilson, junior forensic chemistry major, said. “And I was like ‘No, I want to kiss her.’”
Though she tried to mask her true feelings, the truth of her sexuality became more apparent to Wilson as she matured.
The girl who had blossomed into a young woman was forced to conform—Wilson began dating a boy and stayed silent on the feelings she once had, confined in the closet by the fear of rejection from her parents.
The boyfriend, says Wilson, didn’t last long. She avoided spending time alone with him and contained no feelings of romance for her companion.
“I was, on the best days, apathetic towards him,” Wilson said.
Frustrated by her discontentment, Wilson spoke the sentence she had been avoiding her entire life. She told her parents the secret she had struggled with, fought against and kept for years: she was in the LGBT community.
Though not accepting at first, after time, her parents accepted their daughter’s sexuality. After initially coming out to her parents, Wilson was selective about who she told. She kept the circle small, just immediate family and her closest friends.
Wilson, when she came to campus three years ago, pulled that circle even tighter around her.
She thought carefully about who knew, carefully evaluating who she could trust, silenced by the worry of potential homophobic harassment.
The passing of Title IX, which made authority figures legally obligated to report harassment on the basis of sexual orientation, gave Wilson more confidence to come out more openly.
“Even if they morally disagree with me being gay, they are legally obligated to follow it through,” Wilson said. “I feel like it gave me a sense of power. I couldn’t live my whole life closeted.”
Wilson says that she is surrounded by fellow members of the LGBT community on campus, both closeted and proudly out with their sexuality.
“A surprising number of students on campus are within the LGBT community,” she said.
These students, though vast in number, choose silence due to fear of discrimination.
Students frequently request events geared towards mental health, said Casey Zadinski, president of the Peer Leader group, but, during her time in this role, she hasn’t heard the desire for LGBT-centered programs.
“It’s one of the issues on campus that’s really not talked about much,” Zadinski said.
Zadinski is a senior psychology major and she sees that Peer Leaders serve their mission to educate the campus on issues surrounding college and life as a student.
In order to gather inspiration for their programming, Peer Leaders reach out to students in focus group environments. In these meetings, students are open to suggest future events that could alleviate common problems among them.
This silence from the LGBT community, said Zadinski, is the cause for the absence of programming. Though she said LGBT-focused events are a missing link from the Peer Leaders’ programming, the lack of communication makes her feel unsure as to what events would benefit them best.
“I am unfamiliar with what they may need or want,” Zadinski said.
Though the Peer Leaders currently don’t host programs tailored for LGBT students on campus, Zadinski feels it’s important to make them feel seen and welcome at the university.
“Every person should feel like they have a community where they exist,” she said. “…they’re just as important and valuable as the rest of us.”
Sophomore psychology major Alex Robb has had trouble feeling welcomed before.
Robb, who identifies as a transgender man, previously attended another institution where he was ostracized for his gender identity.
This discrimination against his gender was so blatant and suffocating that Robb felt forced to switch schools.
“They were like ‘I don’t want to deal with this,’” he said.
After transferring to Waynesburg, Robb felt lucky to quickly find accepting friends.
“I was integrated into a great friend group pretty quickly,” Robb said.
Even after finding a more accepting community, however, Robb still struggles with being misgendered or called by his pre-transition name.
“I feel dead inside [when being called by pre-transition name,]” he said.
To the campus community, Robb asked students to be more open-minded to those in the LGBT
community and more willing to talk about issues relating to sexuality and gender.
Robb feels a sense of comradery to fellow students within the LGBT community.
“I would like them to know that they’re not alone,” Robb said. “There are a lot of us. There are more resources than you might think. You just have to seek them out.”
Wilson walks down the hallway with a bright smile and quick step.
She waves to familiar faces and offers warm greetings, and her positivity gives a sense of goodwill to passers-by.
She uses this gregarious personality and her striking intellect to befriend others, and her charisma has allowed Wilson to act as a root for the LGBT community on campus.
In her position as a resident assistant and by regularly attending Greene County Gay-Straight Alliance club meetings, she works to build small communities and resources for students on campus.
“As it stands right now there are seven groups of three or four people that I have managed to connect together that are all queer in some way,” Wilson said. “They’re interacting with one another and knowing that they’re in a safe space to talk about someone that they love.”
Wilson attends the Greene County Gay-Straight Alliance’s weekly meetings, which offer a safe space for community members either gay or closeted to meet.
Wilson chooses to attend meetings off-campus because she feels as though campus would be unable to safely host such an organization.
The lack of LGBT resources at Waynesburg University, said Wilson, is due to a significant concern of harassment or hate from students.
“A lot of people on this campus are homophobic,” Wilson said.
Wilson believes that this homophobia isn’t due to the Christian religious affiliation of the university, low income of Greene County county or rural environment in which Waynesburg is located, but rather the intersection of those three factors.
“If you’re looking at the root of homophobia on this campus I don’t think it’s Christianity,” Wilson said. “I think it’s the areas that people were raised in.”
Wilson, who identifies as Christian, says that many Christians are increasingly accepting of LGBT community members.
Wilson was kicked out of her church due to her sexuality, which left her to research the history of homosexuality and the Bible.
“It’s not mutually exclusive to be gay and to be a Christian,” Wilson said.
Wilson, who is Native American, Hispanic and African-American, understands that her harassment may not be a statement just against homosexuality, but her race as well.
“I’m already three things that people hate,” Wilson said.
The lack of group events for fear of homophobia leaves LGBT students scattered throughout campus without a direct way to associate with one another.
“There is a lot of us, it’s just not a community,” Wilson said.
The LGBT community on campus is splintered in small groups, finding community in with just a few others, where they feel safe.
“I don’t want to say the school is the problem. It’s not,” Wilson said. “It’s not so much a problem as an attitude that needs changing.”