In the past seven years at Minnesota State University, Jessica Flatequal has heard about students being assaulted, some fired from their jobs and those losing ties with their family when “coming out.”
These students all dealt with conflicts regarding sexual orientation and gender identity.
Flatequal directs the second oldest resource center on a college campus nationwide that focuses on students in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community.
The LGBT center in Mankato, Minn., was established in 1977 behind activist Jim Chalgren, who was a graduate student at Minnesota State and later received state and national recognition in fighting for gay rights. The center is now named in his honor.
“Some people believe that LGBT people are overtly sexual. Lesbians want to be men. They perceive us as a threat or dangerous or pedophiles, which is not even the case,” said Flatequal, who identified herself as a lesbian 20 years ago. “Education is the key in fighting these and other stereotypes.”
Although LGBT supporters stress education is an integral part in fighting prejudice and spreading truth about sexuality and gender identity, it doesn’t deter some from expressing another viewpoint. In November at Wake Forest University, racist and homophobic slurs were plastered on six fraternity doors. Some students are reported to have committed suicide when directly targeted, such as the case in September 2010 when former Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi died of an apparent suicide after jumping off the George Washington Bridge in New York. Clementi, 18, was secretly videotaped by his roommate while being intimate with another male. The video was later shown online.
Flatequal says no serious incidents have occurred at Minnesota State, but the center aims to ensure that all students show compassion and promote diversity among LGBT students and safety. For example, the center trains students who have “come out” about their identity to discuss their experience during panel sessions at various classes such as sociology. The center even helps heterosexual students whose parents, siblings or other relatives have revealed themselves as being another sexual orientation or gender.
A recent program was held for one-on-one training about transgender identity to discuss student support and gender binary and challenging gender-based locker rooms and restrooms. Because some students have been harassed and assaulted in public restrooms, “gender-neutral” restrooms are built in various buildings. They are equipped with a toilet and single stall for both men and women—a major civil rights topic for transgender individuals.
Minnesota State’s center opened in 1977 and was staffed by a part-time graduate assistant and student volunteers. A sit-in was conducted at the president’s office in 2003 to hire a full-time director to aid in promoting LGBT issues. A year later, Flatequal was hired as director.
Flatequal says she will continue to support LGBT students and educate those who disagree with their lifestyle.
“What’s nice for me and my job is I am not the only person responsible in handling LGBT issues,” said Flatequal, who received a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in art from Minnesota State. “Our campus has talented people in helping these students and educating people who may have been lied to about the LGBT community. I think it is important to … understand what we are talking about is conceptual affection and love for one another. That’s a basic human element.”