Tuesday, February 7, 2023

LGBTQ Communities Foster Inclusion, Support in Oxford

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For LGBTQ Oxonians, there are many groups in the area working to support them and provide a place to build a community among their own group.

Over the last decade, members of sexual minorities have found their identities part of a national political debate. This conversation follows a paradigm shift in the ability of sexual minority members to freely self identify themselves as who they are.

The Pew Research Center poll data shows that in 2001 57 percent of Americans opposed same-sex marriage as opposed to the 55 percent of Americans who were in favor of it in 2015.

Gail Stratton, photo courtesy olemiss.edu
Gail Stratton, photo courtesy olemiss.edu

“We are closer to being part of the fabric then we were 10 years ago” said Gail Stratton, organizer of the Local PFLAG Chapter.

One such group is PFLAG or Parents Friends and Families of Lesbians and Gays. PFLAG is a national organization with local chapters across the country whose mission is help people of sexual minorities and their friends and families navigate the complexities of the coming out process.

“The goal of the organization is support those individuals, educate the public and advocate for change, ” Stratton said.

PFLAG is available for any person who wishes engage in a conversation about the process but focuses a lot on helping parents come to terms with their child’s identity.

“For Parents, often they have their own process of figuring out how to love their child or continue to love their child but with changing expectations. Its not always easy even if you are supportive and loving,” Stratton said, “We support people wherever they are in the process. By coming to a meeting like that they are saying a lot about how much they love their kid.”

These meeting are held every second Thursday in the Harrison room of the J.D. Williams Library at the University of Mississippi.

The local PFLAG chapter was started in 2004 by members of the congregations of the Unitarian Universalist and Episcopal churches of Oxford to provide help to a community that was struggling with identity issues. Stratton says she believes that the religion of the founders of the local chapter informed the need the creation of the organization in Oxford.

“Unitarian Universalism is an open and welcoming faith tradition and so choosing to be more out there by offering this organization was absolutely a religious decision. I think the same is true for the people at St. Peters. They knew that there were people in their church struggling with the issue. They were comfortable with it and they wanted the people to have the opportunity to become comfortable with it, ” Stratton said.

PFLAG is working more and more to get education and support to the community through programs and meetings.

“We are trying to have a least half of the meeting be programs where we bring in other people or a short film that will be a draw,” Stratton said, “And then once people are here they can have those conversations.”

Another local group providing support to the community is an organization called Lambda. Lambda is a LGBTQ+ support group that operates on the campus of the University of Mississippi to help students who are members of sexual minorities find a community during their time on campus. The support group is run by a handful of psychology graduate students, of whom the leader is Curtis Hooks.

“Lambda is a support group for the sexual minority spectrum and what we do in Lambda is we are supportive to those individuals. We are here to make connections with these people and let them make connection with each other,” Hooks said, “Sometimes we don’t even talk about sexuality we just talk about life.”

Lambda emphasizes the importance of privacy between their members about identity and the conversation that happen during meetings. This helps members of these sexual identities who have not yet come out or who are not open about their sexuality to feel safe and at home.

“The coming out process for sexual minorities, there is a lot of variability in that. Some people don’t feel comfortable. Some people are exploring their sexuality.

Lambda makes it easier for individuals to just feel comfortable when they cant be in other spaces,” Hooks said.

This is an issue that comes up often when people discuses the issues surrounding the sexual minority community. While LGBTQ issues have become more of a part of the national discussion many people don’t have clear understanding of sexual minorities and many others still are not accepting.

“A lot of times we try to put people into boxes and categorize them into lesbian, gay, bisexual and a lot of times they don’t really work for sexual minorities,” Hooks said, “sexuality is more fluid than that.”

Stratton said she feels similarly.

“Let’s start with humans as they are and figure out what we need to do and not humans as we think they should be, ” Stratton said.


Drake Davis is a journalism major at Meek School of Journalism and New Media. He can be reached at drdavis3@go.olemiss.edu.

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