In an effort to get into areas of the country where GLBT students face more issues, the Campus Pride organization held its summer leadership camp at Vanderbilt University in late July.
Campus Pride works with student leaders and campus groups to create a safer college environment for GLBT students. Its nationwide volunteer network helps to develop resources, programs and services on campuses across the country, and its summer leadership camp plays a major role in that effort, says Shane Windmeyer, one the group’s cofounders and its executive director.
“Our belief is that GLBT activism happens from within communities both locally and nationally, and Nashville has done an amazing, stellar job in being a progressive city in a conservative state,” Windmeyer said. “That, plus the fact that Vanderbilt is a great campus, made it really easy for us to want to be here. The South has long been a target for us, we just needed to find a good location so that we could have a positive leadership experience for our attendees.”
Participants were immersed in social-justice issues, learning about how to effect social change as campus leaders. For many it’s the first opportunity to focus on GLBT issues, as they come from smaller, rural areas where the community isn’t very active.
“We encourage them to not only look at their own GLBT identity and figure out who they are, but also to dig deeper and look at who they are as a leader beyond their sexual or gender identity,” Windmeyer said. ‘We want to train them and work with them on what it means to be a social-justice advocate.”
To foster that development, Campus Pride brings in nationally known speakers to add to its mix of seminars and workshops during the week. This year, Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality and a recipient of the organization’s Voice & Action Leadership Award was on hand, as was Brian Sims, an attorney who is the first and only college-football captain to come out to his team while attending Bloomsburg University.
Around 60 students attended the event, and Windmeyer said he hopes that during the coming months Campus Pride’s national officials can connect with local businesses to drum up support for a return visit next year.