Clemson Gay-Straight Alliance provides welcoming space for all
Clemson’s Gay-Straight Alliance (CGSA) wants you to know who they are — not for them, but for you.
CGSA creates a welcoming space on campus for individuals of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning) community and provides a place for straight individuals to partner with other members of the Clemson family. Their efforts are aimed at making all of campus feel safer for everyone.
Courtney McKevie, president of CGSA, has one mission for this semester: “We want to raise awareness on campus — let people know that we’re here, that we care and that there’s more to us than just socials.”
She, along with vice president Jacob Schneider, hopes that their executive board can change the way Clemson sees individuals in the queer community.
“We’re just like any other organization, full of normal people, a little family inside the greater whole. Anyone is welcome, regardless of sexuality, gender, age, race or anything,” said McKevie.
Schneider decided to join CGSA as a sophomore because he wanted, and needed, a place where he could ask the questions no one discussed while he was growing up. He realized he felt attracted to men in early high school. However, he didn’t come out until college.
“I didn’t know how to process things, and CGSA helped me do that,” he said.
Schnieder talks about how it equipped him to come out to his parents, both of whom now support him.
“Sexuality can be an elephant in the room. CGSA takes it out and makes a home for everyone,” he said.
“There are a lot of stereotypes about individuals in the queer community, and sometimes we hold them, too. CGSA is here, and we do way more than any of what people expect. We want to get rid of stereotypes,” said McKevie. That’s why they hold open dialogues and share their stories at public events.
CGSA members participate in a variety of activities, including fundraising, social events, community service and weekly topical discussions. As part of a greater Clemson area outreach plan, they planned a pumpkin giveaway; members decorated pumpkins for individuals in nursing homes. On Nov. 20, CGSA commemorated Transgender Remembrance day with a vigil for all those that have faced discrimination for their gender identity, as well as celebrating their unique beauty.
Every October, CGSA also celebrates National Coming Out Week, their biggest event. This year’s celebration garnered a lot of attention, with opportunities such as a Speak Out panel, an outdoor fair and a trip to the Atlanta Pride parade.
While founded on collaboration, CGSA wants to see more of it happening now and into the future. That means hosting events with fraternities, academic organizations and other student groups. They know Clemson is open to it as well — at National Coming Out Week in 2013, a pack of pledge brothers came up to their table.
“They asked for help and expressed a willingness to learn, all so they could be better friends to a brother that had just come out,” explained McKevie.
Those students became supporters through CGSA’s outreach efforts. Clemson also offers ally training for students, faculty, staff and community members to teach them how to reach out to and support individuals among the LGBTQ population. McKevie remarks that professors and mentors who have attended training and meetings have spurred some of the most integral change to Clemson’s environment.
Even after graduation, many CGSA alumni go on to join the Clemson Alumni Society for Equality (CASE), an alumni organization that works with CGSA to raise awareness about Clemson Family members and the distinct needs they have. CASE provides a scholarship every year for a student in CGSA who needs it.
Collaboration and support bring about the most change to campus attitudes and beliefs. With changing cultural practices as well as the dedication of CGSA’s executives, this year looks promising for the organization and the future of the Clemson community.
“The executives during my freshman year offered a place to talk, and the organization as a whole offered a community where I could open up. We’ve seen growth because more than just LGBTQ individuals are curious now, wanting to add their voice,” said McKevie. “CGSA is succeeding at offering a safe environment — we will continue to do that and make our events more accessible for everyone.”