Queer, a term that is often associated with derogatory and belittling sentiments, has been reappropriated to represent all gender and sexual minorities, or gender non-conforming individuals within the gay community. Members who identify as part of this group often take pride in embracing their individuality and sexuality within the heteronormative American culture.
Hampshire College, along with Amherst College, Smith College, Mount Holyoke College and the University of Massachusetts Amherst make up what is known as the Five Colleges. Together this past weekend, these schools hosted the fourth annual Five College Queer Gender and Sexuality Conference at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass.
According to the Hampshire College website (www.hamsphire.edu), “The conference aims to offer an accountable and supportive environment in which to further explore a wide range of topics, and their intersections, such as race, genders, sexualities, ability, class, kink, survival strategies, and many more, in a specifically queer context.”
The two-day conference ran from March 1 into March 2 and was a very impactful and enlightening experience for those who attended.
Student leaders, campus staff and off-campus educators helped facilitate workshops, panel discussions, presentations and lectures that pertain to the queer community and the social inequalities faced by its members.
The discussed topics ranged from light-hearted topics such as self-love and self-care tips to heavy, distressful realities that included sexual violence within the queer community and injustices within the penal system for transgendered, transsexual and intersexed individuals.
Fortunately, fun, interactive workshops were also delivered to balance out the heart-wrenching lectures.
A performance by members of the queer, working-class organization “Heels on Wheels” promoted femme empowerment and anti-oppression within a radical, feminist framework.
Cristy C. Road, a Cuban-American artist and writer, as well as Fabian Ortiz Romero, a queer Chicago poet, performance artist and community organizer were also featured guests. Overcoming social discrimination as a member of the queer-Latino community and embracing one’s identity were common themes among these speakers.
Hampshire College truly grasps the importance of providing its students with a liberal arts education that aims to keep students learning and considering new information in an intricate and shifting world. I first came to this realization when a sign that read “All Gender Restroom” caught my eye on the way into the college restroom during the conference. Hampshire College has acknowledged that the way to keep their students aware of the changing world around them is by challenging previous ideas of the social norm and applying new ones.
Gender-neutral restrooms, like those found at Hampshire College, make it easier for gender non-conforming individuals to enter without the fear of discrimination. For a person with a non-conforming gender identity, the simple act of entering a public restroom can be very stressful. Don’t all individuals deserve to feel safe in such a personal space?
Gender-binary restrooms, or restrooms that distinguish between feminine and masculine forms, are ways of keeping gender non-conforming individuals and queer folk oppressed in society. Clearly, Hampshire College has already recognized this. Now the question stands: Will Ramapo College learn a thing or two from Hampshire College and implement a similar tactic to protect all gender and sexual identities found on the college campus? Time will tell.