Queer Families Come Together at SUU Panel

Southern Utah University students and southern Utah community members met in the Sterling Church Auditorium to attend SUU’s Pride Alliance Queer Families Panel on Jan. 27.

The panel included three queer couples from St. George and Cedar City that discussed their relationships, their coming out stories and answered questions from the audience. These couples were Cathy Croft and Lila Gasink, Chad Campbell and Warren Hall, and Ivan Grey Stevens and Tracie Stevens.

The first major discussion of the night centered around gay marriage and seeing queer couples get married during December 2013. This was  the first time gay marriage was legalized in Utah before the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the ruling the following month on Jan. 6, 2014.

Two of the couples shared their experiences of being married during the first few weeks of legalization. They shared their disbelief that as a couple they were able to finally have a legal option that made it easier to be foster parents and adopt children.

“I love hearing these stories, this is so fresh, the legalization of [gay] marriage,” stated panelist Chad Campbell.

Campbell is currently engaged to his fiancé Warren Hall and conveyed how even now his family question the validity of his ability to marry his partner.

“When we announced our engagement my mom was like, ‘What, is that legal? Can you do that?’” continued Campbell.

Several panelists conveyed that the best way for people to support queer couples is to be a friend and to have a supportive family, whether it be a chosen family or biological. They also discussed how neighbors who are patient, open-minded and accepting have helped them find safe places to express their feelings.

Two panelists cited that administrative help and seeking aid from resources at work has helped during times of transition or when seeing opposition in the workplace.

Ivan Grey Stevens also shared with audience members his experience being a transgender man and his relationship with his wife Tracie Stevens. Ivan clarified for audience members of the struggles of receiving health care and procedures as a trans man.

“Insurance won’t cover it. There are very few that will if you are lucky,” Ivan said. “It was pretty demoralizing to go through to get this [top] surgery done. We had to do it out of pocket — all my testosterone is out of pocket. It’s one of those fine lines where some people will say it’s a choice… but for me, it’s my life. It’s something that I have to have to make my life fulfilling and to be who I am.”

When asked how individuals can be better allies, several panelists conveyed that it’s important to allow LGBTQ individuals to express their relationships. One of the most hurtful things, panelists continuously stated, were family members or religious leaders pretending that these relationships didn’t exist and that their feelings weren’t valid or real.

They continued by urging allies to be open to hearing queer individuals as they convey their feelings and to respect wherever a person is at in their sexuality or gender identity journey.

Many of the panel members were raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. One audience member asked how LDS allies could help any LGBTQ individuals in their lives.

“I think what was hard… growing up LDS was that I felt that I wasn’t normal,” stated Tracie Stevens. “[It was] the little ways of having a crush on someone and having that completely shut down and strayed away from. I think that some way that you can encourage [them] is to just hear them express it and acknowledge it, and not have to push it down.”

The Pride Alliance at SUU is committed to helping LGBTQ youth on campus. At this event they also recommended that any individuals who are discovering their gender or sexual identities can receive support through CAPS. Additionally, they encouraged those seeking to become allies of LGBTQ individuals to receive free Safe-Zone training through the Pride Alliance on campus.

The Pride Alliance also brought attention to Encircle, a non-profit organization based in Provo that will be opening a center in St. George. Encircle supports LGBTQ individuals through therapy, aid, friendship circles and other services. To learn more about Encircle you can visit their website here, or listen to them speak in the Gilbert Great Hall on Feb. 13 at 11:30 a.m. in the Hunter Conference Center on the SUU campus.

If you are interested in learning more about LGBTQ issues or information on SUU campus visit the CDI in ST 101 in the Sharwan Smith Student Center or visit the Pride Alliance page here.

Story by Alex Greenwell
Photos Courtesy of Alex Greenwell