EIU Pride members talk lobbying interests

Austen Brown, Staff Reporter

EIU Pride is a registered student organization with the goal of providing a safe space for LGBTQA+ individuals, as well as educating those who do not know much about the community.

Lately, a huge bullet point on the RSO’s agenda has been to lobby for more gender-neutral restrooms on campus.

Sam Hennegan, a sophomore English and philosophy double major and vice president of EIU Pride, said accessibility to gender-neutral restrooms is another issue. 

“Almost all the gender-neutral bathrooms (in the residence halls) are in the basement,” Hennegan said.

She said it is almost like Eastern is trying to hide the trans population on campus.

“Also, our (Gender and Sexual Diversity) center is in the basement of Stevenson,” she said.

In addition, Hennegan said she feels Eastern’s campus is a generally safe one, but there are still many steps that can be taken to make it a more LGBTQA-friendly place. 

“I don’t feel uncomfortable holding a girl’s hand,” she said, “but I do feel like (Eastern’s administration) could be doing a better job (to) represent us in a better way and make us feel more safe.”

Hennegan said it is important that students pay attention to their surroundings to spot and report occurrences of homophobia on campus. 

Jovan Williams, a junior music performance major and the group’s president, said EIU Pride is a “really unique group of people” that members can use as a resource or a place to escape discrimination.

“It’s a place where we can take a step back and really be ourselves,” Williams said. 

Eastern is not quite a haven from homophobia and transphobia, but it is safe for LGBTQA+ people, Williams said. 

He said the simple solution to gay and trans discrimination is to have an “open discussion” and talk about the struggles faced by gay and trans individuals. 

Beth Houck, a sophomore graphic design major and the RSO’s publicity chair, said EIU Pride is more than an educational group or club. 

“(EIU Pride) is a safe space for all people who identify as some sort of queer,” Houck said.

Additionally, she said the RSO takes on an activist approach to social issues regarding LGBTQA+ individuals. 

Houck said the organization’s meetings, which are Mondays at 8 p.m. in the Charleston-Mattoon Room of the Martin Luther King Jr. University Union, feature discussions regarding little known gender identities, ways to better their community, and updates on progress with things the executive board is lobbying for.

She agreed with the sentiment that making Eastern a more tolerable environment for LGBTQA+ individuals is dependent on the vigilance of students to call out occurrences of homophobia and transphobia. 

“The people who … have those insults thrown at them are already in an anxious position, so it’s harder for them to reach out and say something than it is for a passerby,” she said. 

Fatima Estrada, a sophomore criminology major and EIU Pride’s secretary, said the group is a safe space for minorities in general. 

She said there is a distinct connection between the fight for equality among racial minorities, women and LGBTQA+ individuals. 

“People tend to discriminate what they don’t understand,” she said. 

Austen Brown can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].