Do you have questions about navigating college life as an LGBTQ+ student? Are you looking for information about safe sex practices or health concerns facing the LGBTQ+ community? You can get answers to those questions and more at the second annual LGBTQ&A, hosted by Wellness & Prevention at Student Health Services, tonight, Monday, March 4. At the event, led by a panel of experts and modeled on the popular annual Wellness & Prevention Sex in the Dark program, students can submit questions anonymously and in advance. The questions will then be answered by experts, who will also talk about issues ranging from social supports for LGBTQ+ students to questions about romantic relationships and how to be an ally for those in the community.
The program launched last year as an effort by a group of SHS Student Health Ambassadors, who saw a need in the BU community and wanted to address it.
“I think that students in the LGBTQ community have lived experiences and have health and wellness needs that aren’t always included or represented in more mainstream conversations about health and well-being or resources related to student well-being,” says Katharine Mooney (SPH’12), director of Wellness & Prevention. “This event is a recognition of that. And it is working toward minimizing that gap in our society and on our campus.”
“We know there’s a wealth of information out there on the internet and it’s not always accurate, it’s not always tailored to our college students’ experiences,” says Erica Schonman, Wellness & Prevention program coordinator. “So helping students find answers that really, truly are accurate and fit their needs as BU college students is our goal.”
The event kicks off with a resource fair at 6 pm at the Yawkey Center for Student Services. Representatives will be on hand from local LGBTQ+ organizations: Fenway Health, Good Vibrations, the Network/La Red, and Boston GLASS (LGBTQ+ Adolescent Social Services). They will be joined by BU’s Student Health Services, Center for Gender, Sexuality, & Activism, and Sexual Assault Response & Prevention Center. There will be free food, giveaways, a photo booth, and other activities.
Students can come at 6 pm to submit their anonymous questions before the Q&A portion begins at 7 pm. This year’s panelists are Rachel Oppenheimer (CAS’98), an SHS Behavioral Medicine clinician; Ty Furman, director of the BU Arts Initiative; LB Moore, a Boston GLASS behavioral health clinician and a Boston Children’s Hospital researcher for the Trans Teen and Family Narratives Project; and Lola Akintobi (SPH’16), a sexual health consultant.
“As a major institution, I think we have to model a different way of embracing and learning and experiencing and sharing inclusion than is currently being modeled in other areas of our life right now,” says Furman. “We have to be better than what’s happening on the national stage.”
“Systemic queerphobia results in LGBTQ+ young people being disproportionately impacted by discrimination, violence, homelessness, mental health challenges, and poverty,” Moore says. “This impact is further amplified by intersections of other identities that are marginalized, such as disability, being a person of color, or being undocumented. Providing an open community space to answer questions—by LGBTQ+ students directly, as well as their peers—and share information is an important part of nourishing LGBTQ+ students.”
Senior Christian Espino (Sargent), a Student Health Ambassador who worked on the 2018 inaugural LGBTQ&A and is doing so again this year, recalls a student coming up to him after last year’s panel to thank the ambassadors for the opportunity to ask questions she hadn’t been able to find answers to. “I think that her words were just the most validating and heartwarming thing ever,” Espino says. “Because this is why we do what we do. We’re here to help this community and the students that we’re exposed to every day.”
The BACCHUS Initiatives of NASPA, which supports student leadership and peer education on health and safety issues, was so impressed by the event last year that the program honored it with a 2018 Outstanding Peer Education Program Award. The national recognition enabled a group of Student Health Ambassadors to give a presentation about the BU LGBTQ&A at the BACCHUS Initiatives of NASPA Region 1 Conference in Worcester last month, which drew students from colleges and universities throughout the region. Espino was named Outstanding Peer Educator for New England at the conference, as well.
“Winning this award really gives us a platform to let other schools know that they can start these initiatives there, too, which is great because then it’s not just limited to our school. It’s something that any US school can model after,” says senior Denise Huang (Sargent), a Student Health Ambassador on this year’s planning committee.
This year, the ambassadors hope to see more LGBTQ allies as well as more graduate students at the event, which is open to all members of the BU community. “I just really want people to know that BU is a supportive and welcoming community, and that we come from so many diverse backgrounds, and they’re all welcome here,” says junior Therese Clover (CGS, Sargent), another Student Health Ambassador on the planning committee. “Everyone has a voice.”
LGBTQ&A is Monday, March 4, at the Yawkey Center for Student Services, 100 Bay State Rd., Room 613, and is free and open to BU students, faculty, and staff. The resource fair begins at 6 pm and the panel at 7 pm. Find out more at the Facebook event page.