By Caitlin Sheridan
YSUnity is holding a series of discussions focused on LGBTQIA issues. The first discussion was held on Feb. 25 in the Ohio Room of Kilcawley Center, with more to occur in the following weeks.
YSUnity promotes awareness of issues related to LGBTQIA students, providing support and “safe zones” for all LGBTQIA students and staff, with the aim to create a more welcoming campus for the students of the LGBTQIA community. The group utilizes campus activism, education and events to network with other organizations and businesses on and off campus to foster a diverse community.
Tim Bortner, president of YSUnity, works on campus to educate and help facilitate the group.
“We don’t discriminate; we don’t judge. Even if you don’t fit into the acronym, you can be yourself,” Bortner said. “Not only are we a support group, but we are a social group and a community group.”
Lisa Ronquillo, vice president and student adviser of YSUnity, said the round table discussions are focusing on how they can further educate people on matters of suicide — particularly in the transgender community — marriage equality and being “out” in a place of employment.
“These are issues I focused on in the prior two years that I was president but feel the need to continue to have open discussions on how we can keep creating a safe space for our members and allies,” Ronquillo said.
YSUnity asked other organizations in the community — such as PFLAG, formerly known as Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, The Pride Center located downtown and Equality of Ohio — to attend the discussions.
Bortner stated that they wanted this discussion to be a free place where people can express themselves and talk openly.
“You can tell your personal experience or story. It is also a confidential place where privacy is offered,” Bortner said.
YSUnity’s second discussion will be held March 4 at 5 p.m. focused on “LGBTQIA Through the Eyes of Different Religions.”
A panel of experts on the world’s major religions will discuss how LGBTQIA issues are viewed in the context of different religions.
There will be a question-and-answer period where members of the audience can engage the panelists. YSUnity will also provide a list of questions for the panel members.
“I feel that it is vital to open up the floor regarding spirituality topics, as many of our members consistently struggle with their identity in a religious sense and how and where they might fit in,” Ronquillo said.
YSUnity is co-sponsoring this event with the women’s studies department.
Michael Jerryson, professor of philosophy and world religions, will be a member of the panel and will discuss Buddhist beliefs. Jerryson said he believes those attending may be surprised by the evolution of religious thought in regard to sexual identity and gender orientation.
“Religions have a checkered past in how they deal with nonheterosexual identities. There has been a large pattern in global religions to have a lack of tolerance for nonheterosexual relationships. This has changed in recent years, which is interesting for a lot of these faiths though. What we’re seeing right now is a lot of fluidity in how groups, communities and authorities view nonheterosexual commitments,” Jerryson said.
As a continuing leader of YSUnity, Ronquillo feels that it is important that their organization continues to educate the campus and the community at large.
“Awareness is the key to breaking down many of the walls that surround issues by default. If these walls no longer exist, then it would be possible to have a more loving and safe environment,” Ronquillo said.
YSUnity held a previous event in the past featuring a group religious studies professors of all backgrounds, including a campus minister, as well as religious studies students.
The goal Bortner wants to achieve from the events is to create awareness, to enlighten and to educate people.
“Even if we only educate, enlighten or create awareness for one person, that is one more person in the world that we opened their mind a little bit more to our community,” Bortner said.
All discussions are free to the public. Bortner is expecting students, staff, faculty and the community to attend the YSUnity discussions.