The LGBT Community at NAU

As a student at NAU, it is hard to not see how open and friendly the university is. My first week here, I became aware of the LGBTQ community that is active on campus. I saw posters that listed meeting dates hung up at bus stops in addition to students handing out tiny papers with meeting dates and times plus wristbands that said “NAU LGBTQA COMMUNITY” inside the Union. The upfront way the community expresses itself tells a student that the LGBTQ community is just as commonplace as anything else. No one was harassing the students or making demeaning comments. It was an eye-opening moment. I had not witnessed such an acceptance of the community despite having lived in Arizona my whole life.

NAU was an example to me of how public opinion of the LGBTQ community has progressed among certain circles in society. It was not until 2001 when homosexuality, sexual acts between people of the same gender became legal; marriage and adoption were allowed for gay Arizona couples in 2014. As for transgender people, the state will now issue new birth certificates to post-operative persons. Overall, this acceptance of the community and its people are good progress, but there are still setbacks occurring. Arizona is a red state, meaning it tends to swing conservative. That is why many LGBTQ issues have taken so long to be addressed in law and not always effectively. Discrimination laws have been in place since 2003, but they vary depending upon the city, and in 2014 a bill was proposed to allow people or businesses to deny service to LGBTQ people on religious grounds but was ultimately struck down. Additionally, while sexual orientation discrimination is a hate crime, discrimination against gender identity is not. Most importantly, conversion therapy for minors is only banned in one county in Arizona as of 2017.

This information shows the overall attitude Arizonans have towards the LGBTQ community. People, for the most part, seem generally supportive of community, but when it comes to more specific issues, the public lags behind. Issues relating to gender identity, such as inclusive bathrooms, are only now starting to be addressed, but officials rarely agree or are part of the community so little gets done. This shows how some people may be fine with the community but do not understand it. People are of the mindset that being queer (an umbrella term for all LGBTQ identities) is curable and that parents have the right to choose what they want their child to be.

People with such extreme ideas regarding the LGBTQ community typically come from places of religion. According to the Pew Research Center, 67% of Arizonans are Christian. While a lot of people now accept queerness, don’t confuse this passivity with actual engagement or encouragement of the community. The religious belief of homosexual sex being a sin is common place, it is a part of many groups doctrine and while religious figures have added on to what this constitutes, it most cases has not changed at its core. For example, before these changes it was condemning if one was queer now it is only condemning if they act upon those desires. Often when one comes out to their religious families, they are denied their identity or rejected by their family. Or maybe their family accepts them but only because that person is family rather than any acceptance of the LGBTQ community making that person becomes the only exception. This kind of acceptance is not effective at gaining positive effects for the community. So, while these old teachings are still being circulated and perpetuated within a society that has moved past them.

Opposite of all this is the LGBTQ community here on campus. Most people are open in talking about their sexuality on campus, and teachers even talk about the subject themselves, specifically the use of proper pronouns. The NAU website even has an Out and Proud list of faculty and staff members. Additionally, SafeZone training is offered for faculty, staff, and employees of NAU; this program helps people to learn about the LGBTQ community and be able to discuss it properly. It is good that NAU has given this platform for the community to use to make a place in which queer people can be comfortable in, both in class and on campus. The LGBTQ organization on campus has monthly meetings every semester, not including other specific meetings that take place. For example, last semester I saw posters for a bi support group that met every other week.

During my freshman year, I went to a few of the LGBTQ meetings with a friend. The students there were very welcoming, we played games, ate food, and discussed topics, such as representation in superhero comics and movies. The theme of each month changed. but the topics always coincided with that theme. Unfortunately, I had to stop attending because of schedule conflicts. but the meetings were a great place to meet others and have a safe place to offer ideas and opinions which I feel is important today, to have a place of refuge. Crimes against queer people are still happening today, and even if there are laws in place to protect queer people it does not mean they are being enforced. However, hate crimes seem to be going down in Flagstaff. In 2014, six hate crimes dealing with discrimination by sexual orientation were reported, and none have been reported since. But such things still occurred in Orlando in 2016 and more recently, Spencer Deehring and Tristan Perry.

Overall, NAU is a great place to be if you are within the LGBTQ community. Hate crimes have gone down, laws pertaining to LGBTQ people have been furthered, and NAU has given the community a platform to reach out to others. This is something to be proud of because this cannot be said for every place in Arizona. For example, in my high school, the LGBTQ community was not something talked about outside of religious context so people who were out became that "queer person" and nothing else. My school Catholic school didn’t create an open environment for personal discussions or explorations of sexuality which was negative for some of my peers. NAU and I have come very far from where we began.

If you would like to learn more about the LGBTQIA communities on campus you can follow these links. To attend events, follow this link. If you want to know more about LGBTQIA housing, you can go here.

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