Thursday, an open forum was held to discuss queer experiences and the discovery of identity surrounding gender and sexuality. Courageous Conversations: The Queer Experience, was an open panel allowing queer students to ask various panelists for guidance and advice navigating the waters of Gonzaga as a member of the LGBTQ community. 

The event began with an acknowledgement of the native land and native people of Spokane, and a few ground rules were laid down in order to be the most open-minded and respectful audience possible.

Conversations were predominantly guided by student audience members, and the panelists were able to answer by giving anecdotes from their own unique experiences. Crowd engagement was encouraged and important for the event to thrive. 

Panelists ranged from students to a lab coordinator, and included members of the Queer Student Union, Diversity, Inclusion, Community & Equity (DICE) and the Office of Health Promotion. Each panelist offered various on-campus resources for queer students and clubs which welcome the queer student community at GU with open arms.

Not every attendee was a member of the LGBTQ community. Allyship was also discussed during the panel and some students attended as a way of showing support of their friends and peers. Each and every panelist was insistent that educating each and every person in GU's student body is a critical part of the university's mission statement.

"Education is vital especially on a college campus, and learning how to avoid performative allyship and actually following through is important to an authentic support system," said Amanda Brayley, a lab coordinator at GU and participating panelist.  

For some, love and support surrounding their queer identity wasn’t always a given. Panelists discussed ways GU community members can help support LGBTQ students.

"Everyone can easily do their part by making little adjustments to allow everyone to feel comfortable," said panelist Kira Schwander during the open portion of the discussion. "For example, not assuming others’ pronouns and presenting pronouns takes away a guessing game that could be offensive. Another way to help out queer students is by standing up for them when they aren’t given a voice. Helping make little corrections is a small role to play, but it can go a long way and is greatly appreciated."

Students aren’t the only ones with the ability to create a supportive, accepting campus. Staff and faculty can also do the work in order to educate themselves and make students feel safe.

“For a Catholic Institution, this open conversation helped students understand and relate to one another, and I found it encouraging,” Brayley said. 

Brayley also said it is important for Jesuit universities like GU to make an extra effort in making a community for LGBTQ students to feel safe and celebrated. 

GU's curriculum provides some opportunity for open, unbiased discussions, but events like the panel are more casual settings that allow students to talk freely to those with similar experiences. Anasofia Gutierrez, Gonzaga Student Body Association (GSBA) advocacy coordinator, was happy to contribute to the cause.

“Making sure people have the opportunity to learn about others is important," Gutierrez said. "Just by showing up, you’re doing so much."

To end the evening, Emily Menshaw, GSBA community engagement coordinator, made an announcement regarding Transgender Day of Remembrance.

"We hope to see your friendly faces downtown in order to demonstrate your support for the trans community of Spokane," Menshaw said. 

The event in honor of Transgender Day of Remembrance is this Saturday, Nov. 20. Festivities will be hosted at Spokane City Hall  from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m.      

Cate Wilson is a contributor.