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The LGBTA Alliance Struggles to Balance Activism and Advocacy

A thick silence hangs in the air as the co-presidents and the secretary of the LGBTA Alliance stare out from behind a table dressed in a rainbow flag at a group of roughly 30 new and not-so-new club members. Due to university code, the most active on-campus organization under the LGBTQA umbrella is shuffling through its membership for to find someone to fill the vacant treasurer position in order to retain their status as a university-recognized club.

After a speedy deliberation process, former Alliance secretary and Daily Collegian Copy Desk Chief, Joshua Glossner, is democratically elected to become the club’s new treasurer. A hallow applause fills the HUB meeting room, but a rift exists below the surface that has left the LGBTA Alliance staring down a cross-roads, seeking an identity moving forward.

It all started over the summer when newly elected co-presidents, Spencer Paret and Zach Davis, began tweaking the constitution of the LGBTA Alliance in search of ways to make the club’s mantra more geared toward radical and direct-activism.

According to a Facebook post by Davis, “this year the Student Alliance has been pushed in very new and exciting directions by its member base; the co-presidents you elected in April have started the year with a radical name change to signify the start of a new era in the Penn State Queer movement. We are excited to announce that we have officially changed our organization’s name back to SpeakOut!”

However, what Davis and Paret didn’t account for was the fact that the process of changing an on-campus organization’s official name was littered with bureaucratic paperwork and a requisite of democratic deliberation. Both of these requirements were not met by either president.

In the aftermath of the name-change, then treasurer, Leah Silverman, resigned stating via Facebook, “in the wake of the recent actions by the co-presidents, I no longer feel comfortable in this working environment.”

The university then stepped in to mediate the issue, as Silverman filed a report with the Office of Student Affairs against Paret for over-stepping his power as co-president. Paret has yet to receive more than an email.

But as the dust settles and a new treasurer fills the void created by what appears from the outside to be a silly squabble over a name, a chasm that runs deep within not just the Alliance but the Penn State LGBTA community still threatens to be a point of division for the organization.

For Paret and Davis, SpeakOut is more than a new title for the club. It symbolizes the 40 year struggle for the queer community of Penn State to be taken seriously and given their duly-deserved rights. The first LGBTA group on campus, Homophiles of Penn State (which became SpeakOut which became the LGBTA Student Alliance), went through a tumultuous period of being denied university recognition and even having members taking up suite against Dear Old State for being expelled due to sexual orientation.

The use of the older name, SpeakOut, is an attempt to rekindle the spirit of activism within the Alliance and the on-campus LGBTA community. And as Paret worded it, “to get people committed to sparking a fire, to demand for their rights and to make people fucking listen.”

Paret believes to usher in a new queer movement at Penn State, the Alliance must reform their mission statement to include more militant displays of direct-action and to ruffle the feathers of the status quo in a radical, less generic, cookie-cutter way than what was done by the organization in the past.

“Do we want to make a difference for the community? Or do we want to argue about something as stupid as marriage?” asked Paret, emphasizing his desire to spur the progression of sexual anarchy past the point of simply remedying hetero-normative institutions like monogamous union. “If you want to hang out with a bunch of gay people, go to the center. If you want to spark change, it’s time to speak out.”

But current secretary, Arielle Brown, believes that Paret and Davis’s new direction for the Alliance is dangerous for the community and needs to be brought into reasonable perspective.

“Holding hands with your partner while walking down the street is a personal protest that our organization promotes everyday,” said Brown. “We don’t need to be so radical that we turn people away from the cause.”

Brown went on to explain that the Alliance was founded as a social group that gives refuge to those who feel lost in their sexual identity and offers a network of support that stems past the immediate struggle for national rights. Brown also mentioned that the organization is very active in creating visibility for the LGBT community on campus by hosting events such as National Coming Out Week in the fall and Pride Week in the spring.

“I agree that our organization needs to be constantly reminding people that we’re not teddy bears, we’re not happy about the way society is,” said Brown, searching for the middle ground between Paret and Davis’s radicalism and the conservative label sometimes attached to the LGBTA Alliance. “But no one is happy. We need to work with our group as a whole–not just between two members–to decide the best way to fix that.”

In the nomination speech given by the newly elected treasurer, Joshua Glossner, hope blossomed for a more-balanced future. Glossner — who ran for a presidential seat for this year’s Alliance, but was defeated by Paret and Davis — appears to be stridently practical in his approach to the group’s mission and adamant in his desire to unify the seemingly fractured organization.

“There needs to be a balance between activism and the more social aspects of the Alliance,” said Glossner. “We shouldn’t attempt to alienate anyone, but attempt to diversify our organization.”

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