‘Safe spaces’ for diverse relationships

Paige+Allen%2C+junior+English+and+secondary+education+major%2C+runs+a+desk+shift+at+the+LGBT+Center+in+Plemmons+Student+Union+on+Wednesday+evening.+Photo+by+Dallas+Linger.

Dallas Linger

Paige Allen, junior English and secondary education major, runs a desk shift at the LGBT Center in Plemmons Student Union on Wednesday evening. Photo by Dallas Linger.

Makaelah Walters

Relationships can help set the tone for a college experience. In the haze of homework assignments, cumulative exams and looming deadlines, some students have still managed to find the time to form strong, meaningful relationships with their peers.

People of varying sexual, romantic, gender and social identities attend this university and are involved in various organizations and groups such as the LGBT Center, LIPS and the polyamorous community. Appalachian State has a number of “safe spaces” for students to form relationships with people on similar journeys of discovering who they are.

One “safe space” on campus is the LGBT Center. The center is one of “three student-led outreach centers” operated by the center for Multicultural Student Development, according to their online mission statement. The LGBT Center is designed to be a resource for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender students and has evolved into a community inclusive to virtually anyone, sophomore English major and LGBT Center volunteer Ariel Green said.

The LGBT Center is open to all individuals who identify outside of heteronormative, as well as those who consider themselves to be an ally, which is a non-LGBT person who stands up for and supports the rights of LGBT people.

Green said that as a volunteer at the LGBT Center she has made some “really cool” friends, specifically Tuesday Feral, a graduate assistant she works with.

“It’s assumed that we all share similar values and experiences as far as LGBT rights and people who fall on the LGBT spectrum,” Green said. “That creates a unique bond and I feel like it brings us closer to each other because we don’t walk on ice regarding those issues.”

Amanda Lancaster, sophomore advertising major and someone who identifies as bisexual, said she recognized the challenges that come along with discovering her sexuality.

“It has been personally difficult because it is not something that is accepted by most of my family, so I have to lie about my sexuality to most of my family members,” Lancaster said.

It is also a challenge for her being in a relationship with a straight man, she said.

Green said relationships like the ones facilitated by the LGBT Center allow people to be open about similar experiences in a safe space.

“This is important for anyone, especially if you plan to move out of your comfort zone at any point in life,” Green said.

Green also said that having relationships with people of the LGBT community has helped her to develop a language that she can use to communicate with friends, especially her LGBT peers. For example, Green has learned to address her peers using proper pronouns.

Developing a language like this prevents things such as misgendering individuals, which means addressing someone using a pronoun that incorrectly represents the gender they identify with. Simply being aware of things such as these makes for healthier relationships between allies and LGBT people, Lancaster said.

Ariel doesn’t have special plans for Valentine’s Day, but Amanda plans to make her boyfriend a “Smite” themed card.

A far smaller but growing community of people who identify as polyamorous offer another perspective on relationships in the Appalachian community. Polyamorous people are individuals interested in being in a loving, caring and respectful relationship with more than one consenting adult, Beth Fox, Appalachian alumna with a bachelor’s in sociology, said.

Fox said in a polyamorous relationship there is not a finite amount of love designated for a single individual.

A big misconception about these kinds of relationships is that they are purely sexual and non-committal, when in fact they involve a high level of commitment and communication, Fox added.

“Polyamorous people feel that one person cannot be everything, and that loving one person does not take away any love from another person,” she said.

What makes these relationships so strong is the effort put into honest, respectful communication between all parties. They allow individuals to express themselves in many ways with more than one person, Fox said

Fox, who has identified as polyamorous for over 20 years, has been in a relationship with one man for over 20 years and married to another for 10. She is also casually seeing someone as well, although it has not developed beyond friendship. For Valentine’s Day she and her husband plan to have dinner together.

Lauren Camacho, a Hispanic junior social work major, has been in a relationship with her boyfriend, who is an African-American, for a few months. As two people of color, neither of them ever considered their race to be an issue.

Though she and her partner haven’t had any negative experiences in terms of prejudice and discrimination from others while together, she said that is not the case for all interracial couples, which can be challenging.

“Some people have issues with things like disapproving parents or grandparents,” Camacho said. “It seems like with younger generations, it is slowly becoming less of a thing people dwell on.”

She also said that a relationship between people of separate ethnicities can be a special and intimate learning experience.

“It’s very intriguing and beautiful to be able to learn about other cultures and ways of life from someone you are that close to,” Camacho said.

Looking at life from a different perspective can be refreshing, and having a diverse group of friends can help people do that, Tatiana Eaves, junior biology major, said.

Regarding her friends, she said, “On off days, we just have a calm dinner and catch up. The six of us will have dinner, work things out together, and drink a few beers. We all support each other in every way possible.”

LIPS is an on-campus organization designed to create a space for gender and sexual minorities. LIPS fosters powerful relationships and a healthy network of support for strong, driven and unique women, Amelia Thomas, vice president of outreach for LIPS said.

“Strong friendships are super important, especially when you’re trying to discover things about yourself,” Thomas said.

Every identity is welcome in the group, but she said the majority of the current members are white, cisgendered females, or people whose experiences of their gender align with the sex they were assigned at birth. In some meetings, members share personal stories, which requires a certain degree of intimacy that  she said strengthens the relationships they have with each other.

“I know that outside this space I always have someone that I can trust to care and go to for feminist advice,” Thomas said.

She plans to celebrate Valentine’s Day by having wine and dinner with her LIPS friends. She calls it an Anti-Valentine’s Day party.

Boone is a community comprised of people of all identities and all forms of relationships that are supported in “safe spaces” across different organizations at Appalachian.

By: Makaelah Walters, A&E Reporter