Strengthening the LGBTQ+ Community at Georgia College

Strengthening the LGBTQ+ Community at Georgia College

T he 2019 National Collegiate Health Assessment (NCHA) indicates that LGBTQ+ students are far more likely to consider suicide than their non-LGBTQ+ counterparts. 

LGBTQ+ students participate in "Out in the Wilderness."
LGBTQ+ students participate in "Out in the Wilderness."

Sixty-four percent of LGBTQ+ students, compared to 23% of non-LGBTQ+ students, have considered suicide. And, 6.4% of LGBTQ+ students attempted suicide in 2019, compared with 1% of non-LGBTQ+ students.

The importance of having LGBTQ+ programs on campus to support students is evident.

“Research indicates that, if LGBTQ+ youth have at least one accepting adult in their life they are 40% less likely to attempt suicide,” said Melissa Gerrior, program coordinator of the Women’s Center and LGBTQ+ Programs. “It's really about having something in place that makes it so that those students know they have somebody in their corner to help them navigate their college experience.”

A more recent statistic by National Public Radio (NPR) dated May 5, 2022, notes that nearly half of LGBTQ+ youth have considered suicide in the past year. However, the trend is rising according to the article.

“Our numbers are similar to the national average,” Gerrior said. “We see this population tends to also struggle with depression, anxiety and other kinds of mental health concerns at a higher rate than non-LGBTQ+ individuals. Often that's due to the communities they're in and the ways they are received.” 

Melissa Gerrior
Melissa Gerrior

With Gerrior at the helm, Georgia College offers a range of educational opportunities including self-advocacy, better communication and building resiliency. She hosts movie nights, tie dye events and a social mixer with faculty and staff each semester.

“Finding community is one of the things that’s stressed a lot within the LGBTQ+ community,” Gerrior said. “Atlanta Pride allows for community on a major scale where people come together to celebrate something that oftentimes isn't so accepted within a broader society.”

GC Pride Alliance President and senior Shiloh Allen whose pronouns are they/them, is double majoring in philosophy and liberal studies with a concentration in gender and sexuality. They are excited to attend Atlanta Pride. The Georgia College Pride Alliance will march in the Atlanta parade in October. 

Shiloh Allen
Shiloh Allen

“It's not often we get to surround ourselves with the larger LGBTQ+ community,” Allen said. “We know theoretically we are a part of something bigger than ourselves, so the little progressions we can make in our communities add up to a larger effect. Attending Atlanta Pride is a way to experience that empowerment in reality.”

There’s also a need for programs like STAR (support, teach, affirm, respect) Ally. It’s an education-based program designed to equip students, staff or faculty to support LGBTQ+ students on campus. STAR Ally trained individuals can link LGBTQ+ students to appropriate resources.

“Young LGBTQ+ people need adults looking out for them, and all young people need the tools and space to understand themselves. I want to help them do that.”
– Shiloh Allen

Since the program began, a few hundred staff and faculty have been trained. They have put in the effort towards creating a space that’s welcoming and affirming for individuals within the LGBTQ+ community. 

“Students have told me the importance of walking through hallways in certain spaces, and seeing that faculty or staff member’s sticker on their door,” Gerrior said. “They take comfort in knowing that they have been through the training and the ways they can just make them feel a little bit more welcome and comfortable in the classroom and on campus.”

As the student facilitator for STAR Ally, Allen has an opportunity to educate the LGBTQ+ community.

“Over the years, the training has been instrumental in creating a safer and more positive environment for LGBTQ+ students, staff and faculty,” Allen said. “Seeing our community grow, and others support the community, brings me so much joy.”

During LGBTQ+ History Month in October, LGBTQ+ Programs will host events to celebrate the history of the overall LGBTQ+ community and provide opportunities for learning. The annual Come-Out Cookout will take place. It’s hosted by the Georgia College Pride Alliance student organization and is open to the Georgia College and Milledgeville community.  

Georgia College has been hosting programs and events around National Coming Out Day Oct. 11. This event is held on the anniversary of the march in Washington, D.C. for Lesbian and Gay Rights.

“This event reminds us of the power in being ‘out,’ since when people know others who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community, they’re more likely to support equal rights for LGBTQ+ individuals,” Gerrior said. “Representation matters—so it can be important and helpful, especially for LGBTQ+ youth, to see others who are out and living their life and being successful.”

Georgia College also hosts Out in the Wilderness—a collaboration with the Outdoor Education Center. The title is a play on words—"Out" being a term used in the LGBTQ+ community in conjunction with the "Coming Out" process. It gives LGBTQ+ students the chance to interact with another department on campus and allows them to spend some time in nature. 

“Students have told me the importance of walking through hallways in certain spaces, and seeing that faculty or staff member’s [STAR Ally] sticker on their door. They take comfort in knowing that they have been through the training and the ways they can just make them feel a little bit more welcome and comfortable in the classroom and on campus.”
– Melissa Gerrior

Thirty students attended Lavender Graduation in April. It was Georgia College’s 11th event to celebrate graduating LGBTQ+ students and allies for their strength and persistence in the face of adversity, as well as their achievements and contributions to the university. 

“This year’s Lavender Graduation felt very emotional for me,” Allen said. “My partner and several of my close friends graduated—all who are a part of my chosen family. It was wonderful to celebrate them and their achievements.” 

Lavender Graduation spring 2022
Lavender Graduation spring 2022

After students graduate, Gerrior wants them to stay connected to Georgia College. One way is by serving on the LGBTQ+ Alumni Council. In doing so, alumni can help students envision what they can accomplish after they graduate.

“The ability of students to see alumni who are successful after leaving here is really important,” she said. “I hope they’re in a place now where they feel empowered.”

Allen’s time spent with LGBTQ+ Programs has been the most formative experience they have had at Georgia College.  

“It made me realize that working with LGBTQ+ youth is my passion,” they said. “I would like to pursue a career working with them.”

Additionally, it has helped Allen personally by providing them with a space for self-exploration, where they have been able to learn about their self and the community.

When Allen graduates in 2023, they want to pursue a career, working with LGBTQ+ youth groups. They’re passionate about educating and empowering others to make social change possible. This is the example older LGBTQ+ generations have set for Allen. Now, they want to pay it forward.

“Young LGBTQ+ people need adults looking out for them, and all young people need the tools and space to understand themselves,” Allen said. “I want to help them do that.”