The following is a guest post from Matthew French, who is a graduate student at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA studying Digital and Lifespan Communication. Matthew is also a member of the ODU Safe Space Committee and has previously served as Vice President of ODU Out. He attended Camp Pride in July 2012.
The summer of 2012 I attended Camp Pride at Vanderbilt University and little did I know the experience would change my life and add to the direction of my LGBTQA activism. During camp we are asked to come up with an action plan to aide in creating change at our home universities. Before camp my focus had always been on queer academics and political activism. But after the many people I met through camp and hearing the stories of LGBTQA athletes I realized that from my collective memory of six years at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA I could not recall reaching out to our LGBTQA athletes. That was when my action plan was born. I would make it my goal to reach out to the athletic community at my campus.
Being a current graduate student, I am on my universities Safe Space Committee and reaching out to LGBTQA athletes was the topic I brought to the table. I wasn’t sure where to begin or how exactly to reach out, but I knew that athletes were my focus. Through the aid of other individuals within the Safe Space Committee I was introduced to former NCAA football captain and Pennsylvania state legislator Brian Sims. I researched Brian and all his amazing accomplishments, and I knew he would be a great fit for what I wanted to accomplish. Bringing a speaker to a university campus can always be an exciting and scary idea. The logistics behind planning the event and wondering how the speaker and their message will be received, among many other thoughts, tend to run through an organizer’s mind (or at least through my mind). But the key to bringing a speaker is teamwork! Many individuals within the Safe Space Committee played vital roles in planning the events for Brian’s visit. But for events such as this, the more help you have, the better. After outreaching to the ODU community, our events with Brian Sims had 9 sponsors! Our sponsors were diverse and all willing to chip in to make the visit from Brian a success. Our sponsors included Programs All Weekend (university/programs organization), ODU Athletics, ODU Out (LGBTQA student group), Office of Intercultural Relations, Women’s Center, Pre-Law and Legal Resource Center, Golden Key International Honor Society, Political Science and Geography Departments. Having so many different sponsors with our event really created a buzz and we were off to marketing the event. That is one of the many things I learned from this event and that was to reach out to as many sponsors as possible and never discount a sponsor because they don’t seem like an obvious choice.
The day of the event came and I was a ball of nerves. I wondered how all the events would go throughout the day. Through my conversations with Brian, he wanted to stay busy throughout the day and the schedule was full. He would be visiting student organizations, classrooms, athletics, our local LGBT Center and rounded off the night with a university-wide lecture. All of the events went off great and Brian always created an open and fun environment with his amazing message and hilarious humor. But the true test was the lecture that night. Anyone who has done events on a university campus knows that sometimes you have a good showing of people and other times there are quite a few empty seats. As the event neared its beginning, the auditorium filled and we had at least 400 people (if not more) sitting down waiting to hear Brian’s message. Brian is an amazing speaker and person. He does very well engaging with the athletic student body and kept them their attention with his funny side stories and inspiring statistics on LGBTQ issues. His ability to integrate humor, life experience and a positive message of equality for all really had a positive impact on my campus. Everyone who came to one of the events we held thanked the Safe Space organization and I for brining Brian to ODU. It was an engaging discussion and lecture that really brought a face to LGBTQ athletes and began a conversation that will hopefully now carry over into the locker rooms and athletic functions.
The message of this story is to
1) Reach for your goals when creating a more inclusive campus community.
2) Don’t be afraid to reach out to the other organizations and departments, because they can become newly found allies.
3) Look around your campus and open your eyes to LGBTQA issues that need to be addressed and may not seem as obvious.
4) Invite Brian Sims to your campus! He is a speaker that will have everyone on your campus interested in LGBTQA athletes and activism through his intellectual insight into the world of athletics and his hilarious life experiences.
Want to bring Brian Sims to your campus? Click here to learn how you can book Brian and other speakers through the Campus Pride Speakers Bureau! When these entertainers and speakers are booked through Campus Pride, a portion of the booking fees go back to the organization to benefit LGBT and ally college students across the country.