SU rings in LGBT History Month

Jessica Clawson, left, co-owner of the Hideaway Cafe in Winchester, discusses the Pulse nightclub shooting at Shenandoah University's "Beyond the Vigil" panel on Thursday in honor of LGBT History Month. Also pictured is panelist Alex Carney. Rachel Mahoney/Daily

WINCHESTER – Shenandoah University kicked off a month of LGBT celebrations on Thursday evening with a panel discussion on religion, sexuality and safe spaces.

Faculty, students, other educators and members of the community gathered on campus for the “Beyond the Vigil” panel. Four panelists with different backgrounds and perspectives spoke on issues surrounding the June shooting at the Orlando, Florida, gay nightclub, Pulse, which left more than 100 people either injured or dead. They then answered questions from an audience of around 40.

Discussion encompassed topics like the mourning practices after the shooting, media coverage, public perceptions on motives of the shooter, and the different minority groups involved in the incident.

Alex Carney, who served as a panelist at the university, is a 20-year-old senior SU student and president of Spectrum, the university’s LGBT club. She said the “Beyond the Vigil” discussion brings to light an “intersection of identities” taking place at the time of the shooting.

“It takes into account race and sexuality and religion and where bias might show itself,” she said.

October was first dubbed LGBT History Month more than 20 years ago. This year, Equality Forum’s list of LGBT icons to spotlight includes names like David Bowie, Josephine Baker and James Buchanan, the 15th U.S. president.

Later in the month, the university will be holding another discussion panel about gender and health, a film screening, and recognition of National Coming Out Day on Oct. 12. A finale event featuring a “Big Gay Story Night” held by Spectrum will close out the month on Oct. 27.

Carney said students have celebrated National Coming Out Day since she was a freshman in 2013, but this year’s lineup goes beyond that.

“It’s been really cool to be able to watch all of these events kind of grow, because we didn’t have a lot going on on our campus related to LGBT stuff when I was a freshman,” she said. “Now, the fact that we have a weekly event plus more … is pretty amazing to me.”

Faculty from a few different departments at SU are helping to organize the events with the organizational guidance of Petra Schweitzer, director of the Gender & Women’s Studies Program. She said this is the first year the university has held such a lineup for LGBT History Month, coinciding with the addition of “Gender” into the Women’s Studies Program.

She said she hopes October’s events bring a new energy to campus and establish Shenandoah University as a safe space and LGBT ally.

“We really look out for the concerns, for our students, and also provide our faculty members with new ways of teaching,” she said. “We want to be interdisciplinary … we want to cross boundaries.”

To see the full schedule for LGBT History Month at SU, visit http://tiny.cc/ef7mfy.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com.