By Jija Dutt
“I am clear as a Christian minister that in all the holy texts, (the) primary theme is to love humanity,” said University Chaplain, Jon Powers, at the end of yet another Pride Week at Ohio Wesleyan.
The week of Oct. 7 to 11 saw various activities celebrating the LGBT community being held across campus. The week began with the PRIDE members handing out free condoms, goodies and “hot-cards” in the campus center during the lunch hours.
A family dinner was held on Tuesday night, followed by an “All Gender Housing Discussion” led by Rebecca Mosely on Wednesday. Mosely is associate director of Residential Education at Oberlin College.
On Thursday immigration lawyer Bobby Thaxton spoke about the effects of immigration law on the LGBT community.
Junior Hannah Sampson, PRIDE public relations chair, said planning for the week began at the end of last year and was a “work in progress” until mid-September of this year.
“Planning the events was not terribly difficult, as our speakers and performer were very supportive of PRIDE week and incredibly flexible,” she said. “The little technical things, like being in contact with housekeeping, getting rooms reserved, and event setup were probably the most difficult parts of planning, but everything went fairly smoothly overall.”
Sampson said while the executive board planned the events, they worked closely with the Spectrum Resource Center, who helped bring a speaker and hosted the National Coming Out Day celebration at the end of the week. She also said PRIDE members were “invaluable” to the week’s success.
Associate Chaplain Chad Johns said this year’s Pride week saw a wider variety of events compared to previous years.
“This has been one of the best events this year,” he said.
Sampson said this year’s events had the highest number of attendees throughout the week compared to previous years. Most events had about 20-30 people, while Friday night’s Pride Prom “had an incredible number of people in attendance.”
Chaplain Powers said as a university with a Methodist affiliation, “we are somewhat at odds with the church” in matters related to the LGBT community. However, he said ever since he became the university chaplain back in 1988, he has “always been supportive of people who are LGBT.”
Powers said he has always welcomed students who have come to him with personal concerns before coming out to the public about their sexuality and he has always “held them in secret.”
He said he has also received calls and met with parents who have been opposed to their child being of a different sexual orientation who have asked him to help “straighten them out.”
He said his counsel to both students seeking his help as well as parents has always been unique to each given situation, but his “response is always affirmative.”
Powers said he believes crimes towards any individual based on their race, ethnicity, religious beliefs or sexuality of any kind is a deep problem arising out of fear.
“People fear the ‘other,’” he said. “It’s an ignorant reaction. It’s this human shadow that responds to fear by acting out violently.”
Sampson said one of OWU’s goals as an institution is to “celebrate diversity and allow individuals to thrive and express themselves freely.”
“I believe that this campus is very accepting of the LGBTIQA community as a whole and we have an incredible amount of ally support on campus,” she said.
A lot of people came out at this year’s National Coming Out Day; Sampson said some people also came out as allies at the event.
“Accepting people for who they are is something that is improving at OWU,” she said.
Sampson said the Spectrum Resource Center located on the second floor of the campus center is a great asset, especially for those who have concerns about coming out.
Powers said as more people get to know each other as people and don’t see them as the “other,” the less violently people will react to each other.
“A lot of the wall comes down,” he said.
His message to those struggling with coming out is simply to take care of themselves and not come out in way that might be risky to them. He said he wants them to know that OWU is a safe harbor; any place with a “Safe Zone” sign on campus has individuals who have been trained to talk. He asks them to seek a safer harbor within OWU and “know, discover and be assured” that they will be taken care of.
“It is not a political but a care issue,” he said. “We will meet you where you are.”
PRIDE meetings are held on Thursdays at 9:00pm in the Smith Piano Room.