Last month students packed around long plastic tables, talking and sharing turkey, pumpkin pie and each others’ company. The event was called Queersgiving. In recent years the term “queer” has been adopted by the LGBTG movement. According to PLAG, the nation’s largest LGBTQ ally organization, the word is used to describe anyone who “feels somehow outside of the societal norms in regards to gender or sexuality.” The dinner gave University of Oklahoma students who identify as queer a chance to meet and bond with each other.
One of the attendees, Hayley Hinsberger is a linguistics and computer science major. She’s from the suburbs of Chicago and was wary about coming to OU.
“I was worried, but also the scholarship was probably worth it so I was like “I will deal with it when I have to,’” Hinsberger said. “Oklahoma's not the greatest place to be gay, but it's fine because nobody knows and I don't have to tell anyone.”
OU Chemical engineering senior Darius Dixon felt differently. He saw OU as a place he could feel more comfortable than he had in his hometown of Lawton.
“It's a large small town. People tend to know everybody and people's business gets around fairly easily,” Dixon said. “Coming here I was allowed the chance to be my gay self without having to worry about some of the social stigma I would face in Lawton.”
Both Hinsberger and Dixon believe becoming part of a community brought a sense of belonging. For Dixon, one night signaled he found a home.
“It was the first LGBTQ candlelight vigil I went to. There was just a sense of community there,” Dixon said. “It's powerful and reassuring to know that you have a community around you and people who can support you and accept you.”
Hinsberger says one connection here particularly changed her life --- meeting her girlfriend.
“First semester I was like ‘What am I doing?’” Hinsberger said. “Then I met her and it got much easier because I had this super good friend -in fact we were such good friends that we would like hug and hold hands all the time and when I came out she was like pretty cool about it so I was like "I can do this. It's fine!"
Hinsberger is a part of the leadership of Queer Inclusion on Campus, or QUIC. It’s an organization that has pushed for things like a gender neutral housing option and a queer outreach center. Darius Dixon says every queer experience is different due to the concept of “intersectionality.”
“Intersectionality is the convergence of multiple identities almost like where race and gender come together,” Dixon said. “I would say I'm a chemical engineer, a black student, I'm gay and I'm a bit of a nerd.”
Dixon is constantly navigating between the black community and the queer community, trying to find exactly where he belongs.
“From the black side sometimes you deal with some homophobia while on the queer side you deal with the race dynamics within the community and sometimes it can be confusing, difficult and for some black queer people, they don't feel as though they fit in either community,” Dixon said.
The University of Oklahoma has brought out a new side of Hayley Hinsberger. Now, the senior has emerged an activist, something she never would have imagined back home.
“I don't like confrontation and I'm really shy, and I prefer to if I have to speak out about something I want to be typing it not saying it out loud,” Hinsberger said. “Coming here meant it was important to fight for things and couldn't just like hunker down and wait for other people to do it.”
The college experience has changed how both of these students feel about themselves. It’s also changed how they feel about living in Oklahoma.
“I had always had the plan in my mind, as soon as I get my degree I would go anywhere but here, but things have gotten better for queer people in America,” Dixon said. “I figured, ‘It wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing to live in Oklahoma around Norman and OKC. Especially since OKC is sort of a city on the rise and is sort of on a lot of people's radar.”
Hinsberger feels similarly optimistic.
"I can do this. I can stay here for as many years as I have to,” Hinsberger said. “I can do the work that these people are doing and it's going to be okay."
Even if Dixon and Hinsberger don’t stick around after they graduate, it looks as though the queer community they have been a part of at OU will continue to thrive and provide a place in the world for LGBTQ students.
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