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The Daily Tar Heel

LGBT Community, Allies Join Forces

When Trevor Hoppe came to UNC in August, he found a thriving lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community -- but one that he said was not truly diverse.

But during the last few months, Hoppe said, that has changed because an unprecedented number of straight students have joined the LGBT community in its fight for equal rights.

This year, two campus organizations began recruiting straight students to act as allies for the LGBT community. SPECTRUM and the GLBT-Straight Alliance have been mobilizing straight students to support, educate and advocate for LGBT campus members.

"I've really personally been moved by this," Hoppe said. "The dynamics have changed -- before, everyone in the LGBT community just knew each other. I feel like we're a lot more together now."

Junior Alice Newton, founder of the alliance, said social movements often try to incorporate many types of people. "This is very typical of political movements," she said. "If you look at the feminist movement or racial segregation, you see that you need people from the other side to truly be powerful."

Carolina Alternative Meetings of Professional and Graduate Students President Glenn Grossman said that he thinks straight students were more involved in the past but that involvement decreased when the group Bisexuals, Gay men, Lesbians and Allies for Diversity changed its name to Queer Network for Change.

"When they changed the name to QNC, many straight people felt that that didn't include them," he said.

Grossman said that in order to gain political equity, it is vital that the LGBT movement be seen as diverse. "This really draws attention to the fact that it's not just a group of outcasts all by themselves -- it's really a human rights issue," he said.

While both groups seek to unite straight and LGBT students, each have different missions and goals.

The focus of the GLBT-SA is to promote political activism for LGBT issues on campus and throughout the state, Newton said. "We're hoping to affect our area and especially our district representative, David Price (D-N.C.)," Newton said.

On the other hand, SPECTRUM, a subgroup of Campus Y, is focusing more on educating the campus and training more allies, said Patrick Stephenson, the group's co-chairman. "We're going to try to bring programs to dorms to demystify being gay," he said.

Stephenson said the straight allies are an important way to psychologically support students who are nervous about coming out. "If you're gay, you sort of know other gay people will be there for you -- to know other people will be there too just helps a lot," he said.

Assistant Dean of Students Melinda Manning said SafeZone, a group that trains allies, has now taught 131 students, staff and faculty how to support the LGBT community. Although the group does not ask for the sexual orientation of its allies, she said she thinks there has been a recent increase in straight ally activity. "Our program has been around since 1998, but it's been a lot more active this year," she said.

Manning said SafeZone organized two LGBT events this year -- something that would not have happened without the increase in allies.

"I think we have a lot more people behind us now -- it's just kind of power in numbers," she said.

Newton said she already has noticed some improvements in attitudes toward gays and lesbians on campus, even though the alliance only recently formed. "When we started the organization, it sort of reinspired people to become politically active," she said.

Straight ally Shannon Scanlan, a sophomore international studies major, said a personal experience inspired her to take action.

"This year has been the first time that I've seen prejudice against the LGBT community, and it made me want to get involved," she said.

Grossman said he thinks the movement to incorporate straight students into the LGBT community will continue to grow.

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"The campus is generally more accepting now. We've seen some change, and I think that change is going to continue," he said. "And in a large part, that's due to the diversity of the LGBT organizations."

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