Samford University held its first student-led LGBTQ panel to help bridge the gap of communication between members of the community and other students and faculty at the school on Friday, April 20. Students, faculty and staff gathered together in the Howard Room to hear testimonies from members of the LGBTQ community. The inspiration behind the panel stemmed from four Samford affiliates’ desires to open up conversation about their lives. The discussion drew in over 50 people. Several students sat on the floor in the back to listen to the panelists. Samford campus Pastor April Robinson opened up the discussion. She said after working at Samford for 18 years, she had developed a strong passion for helping students walk through difficult times in their lives. “This gives us a chance to tell stories that are unheard,” panelist and junior political science major Isaac Sours said. “It’s reported that 70 percent of sexual minorities know that they are different from a very early age.” Sours said that when he got to college, he started experiencing gender dis forum, which is not knowing what one’s gender is. However, Sours said that these people are no less deserving of respect. “Last year there were at least 20 trans women who were killed in apparent hate crimes,” Sours said. “Having these conversations and humanizing people is an important step in preventing the unnecessary loss of life.” Several panelists said they had experienced such bullying in their own testimonies. “I knew very early on that I was different,” panelist and graduate student Jarvis Cleveland said. “I think within the black community there is an extra layer of LGBTQ-no, you can’t do that. There was a particular hatred towards that community ,and I felt that.” Cleveland said that growing up, he felt a lot of prejudice from his community. He said that for a long time he did not know how to open up. According to Cleveland’s testimony, it was not until his mother passed away that he realized he did not need to live in secret. He wanted to live freely as who he wanted to be. “The first person I came out to was my 16-year-old brother,” Cleveland said. “After 20 minutes of beating around the bush, I said, ‘I’m gay,’ and he said, ‘yeah, I knew that.’” Cleveland’s account said his brother’s response to his coming out gave him so much life. It encouraged him to not be ashamed of himself because he had the love and support of his family. When asked about the differences between sex and sexuality, gender and gender identity, Sours said that your sex refers to the genitals you were born with and chromosomal mutations such as an extra “X,” or “Y,” in your genetic makeup. Gender, rather, is how you identity with society as a whole. “Gender is much more of a sociological thing,” Sours said. Cleveland agreed. “We’re taught certain behaviors based on our sexes,” Cleveland said. Cleveland said that one example of this behavior would be telling a girl that she needs to wear pink or that she needs to learn how to cook just because she is born a female. While the panelists all agreed they had faced some gender classification, they also said each of their testimonies is unique.
Samford graduate Stephen Moss, who graduated in 2010 said he grew up in the panhandle of Florida-a very conservative part of the country. He said he grew up as the “evangelical poster child.” “I represented all of the Southern, conservative subculture,” Moss said. Moss said he first came out at Samford to his campus ministry pastor, who showered him with love. Instead of telling him what he needed to do, Moss said his minister told him that nothing he could ever do or say could make God love him any more or less. Moss also said his minister reacted by telling him that because he knew Moss better, he could love him better. This love, Moss said, is the best way to open up conversation. “I was one of the people who was different, but I didn’t really identify with what made me different,” Panelist and political science and English double-major Jillian F. said. Jillian F. who also goes by the name, Ian, said that they were not comfortable in the gender they were assigned. “I came to realize that gender didn’t define me,” Jillian F. said. “I define my gender. It’s something that is apart of me, but can change from day-to-day.” Jillian F. said that growing up they received lots of backlash and crude language for their identity. They said that their journey needed to be shared with others. “I’m here sharing my story because someone needs to do it,” Jillian F. said. “I am at a place where I have so much privilege to be able to share my story.” Robinson closed the panel by reading an anonymous letter from a current Samford student. The anonymous student’s account said for those who are not of the LGBTQ community to not fear fellowship with LGBTQ students just because they might disagree theologically. Chances are, they agree on more than they think. The letter’s call to action was for everyone to treat each other with respect and love as Christ first loved others.
Anna Grace Moore, News Writer