Campus Pride recently released their list of the top 25 LGBT friendly colleges. My alma mater, UC Riverside was listed as one of them again (I think for the 6th year in the row?) and previously UC Riverside was one of the top trans* friendly colleges. Why does this matter?
Well first off, this is why the idea of a “safe space” matters. A safe space matters because well, it allows someone the chance to actually be themselves. A lot of LGBT+ youth grow up being told that they are freaks, that they are unloved, that they are wrong. A safe space is an empowering thing because it gives people a place where they are reaffirmed, where they are told that they have a place to belong.
The need for safe space comes in all shapes and sizes—just like well…people. A few of my friends attended Geek Girl Con which provided them a place to walk around and meet other people who identified as female (woman or womyn) and talk about their favorite shows, games and thing that would be seen as a male-dominated space. This fosters a comradeship where the participats can band together and feel secure in a larger community where they are already marginalized.
This is why GaymerCon is necessary. Videogamers are seen as misogynistic, racist, homophobic and sexist. As with some of the backlash that has already happened where when a woman critiqued video gamers, a flash game was produced where the goal of the game was to beat a picture of her face—most gamers are not working to clean up that image.
Communities specialized on identity are necessary because they give strength. They are not meant to seclude people nor are they meant to draw upon the differences between us. They allow those on the skids of society to band together, see what we all have in common before breaking into the bigger community.
Let me put it to you this way. You’re at a nightclub. You feel unsure of yourself. So you break away and go to the restroom to give yourself a breather and to look in the mirror. You might tell yourself, “I can do this.” You give yourself a minute and then you go back into the club. Now, imagine if your best friend came to the restroom with you. Rubbed your shoulder and told you, “You can do it” and gave you that support. You’d feel better right? Because you have someone in your corner. On the flip side, your bestie could say, “let’s blow this joint” and you two can go off and find a place where you two feel more comfortable.
These communities are like that. It gives people a chance to get their bearings and see if the bigger “club” is for them.
Going back to UC Riverside, the fact that it was a welcoming place with an awesome student life staff, I was able to come out and feel secure in my own skin. It helped me become a better mentor, teacher and friend because I had people who genuinely cared (and still care) about me. I want to share that feeling with the rest of the world. UC Riverside saved my life.
So thank you, Nancy Jean, Toi, Jaime, Eli, Eric, Marc, Traise, John, Kafele, Emily, and everyone else from the Common Ground Collective and Student Life at UC Riverside. You gave me the strength to help build bigger and better communities for everyone.