For many GLBT young people, going away to college — even if it’s just across town — is the chance to begin coming out and living openly as who, and what, they are.
At least that’s the idea.
Often these students arrive on campus and don’t see anyone to identify with, or are unable to make more than a handful of like-minded friends. That’s why on-campus GLBT organizations are so important to college life, and why they continue to grow and prosper to varying degrees all around Tennessee.
One of the best known and largest is the Vanderbilt Lambda Association, which reaches out to the entire GLBTQI community and works to create ties between those students and the heterosexual/mainstream community. Since its inception in 1987, the group has gone from a largely underground status to a very visible presence on campus. It’s annual faculty/student drag show is a major event, and its participates in most every major student activity during the year, said Suzie Heller, president.
“It began as a support group for students who were closeted, mostly, and was pretty much just a phone-message line,” Heller said. “Now we’re one of the biggest groups on campus, and we do things that are social, like the drag show, that everyone can enjoy, and also some educational programs so that both gays and straights who participate can raise their awareness of issues.”
Lambda wastes no time in letting new students know it’s there. The group participates in the annual Founder’s Walk, right next to sororities, fraternities and other campus mainstays. It also takes part in organizational fairs and in recent years has held its own cupcake social on the commons, making sure it’s front and center for newcomers.
“We have a lot of ways for people to plug in,” Heller said. ‘Once a week we have a general meeting which is pretty casual, and usually get between 20 and 25 people at those. And then we have our various events, which bring in even more people who can’t participate on a regular basis due to their schedules.”
In the end, she added, “We’ve come a long way. I’m in a sorority, and I have a lot of friends ask me questions about us. It’s really crucial that we are visible on campus, and that people see that we are out and accepted. Vanderbilt has been reaching out to a more diverse applicant pool, and so our being here is becoming even more important.”