Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Young Adulthood and Youth Allyship

By Dana Stuehling, IPN Outreach Coordinator
Lately I’ve been reflecting on what it means to be an effective ally to and for youth. I work with youth every day and genuinely believe that they are intelligent and creative and energetic and deserve to have a voice. When I was younger, I had adult friends and family members constantly supporting my decisions and choices, believing that even though I was still a minor, I had the right to make many decisions for myself. This belief has been engrained in my value system and I believe it to be true for the youth around me. 


While at the National Gathering of GSA Networks in Louisville, KY, I was surrounded by incredible high school activists and staff from GSA organizations all around the country. I attended with Ella, an Iowa Pride Network Leadership Team Member and GSA leader, and had an amazing time. Six months later, though, I’m still hung up about a conversation I had in Kentucky. 

As we were headed to dinner one night, I asked a young man that I recognized from my workshop earlier in the day where his staff was – youth couldn’t leave the hotel without a staff person present– and he laughed and told me that he was the staff. Horrified, I apologized profusely and turned beet red. I’m sure I made some remark about hating when people confused me for a high school or college student (it happens quite often, and understandably so), apologized again, and left it at that. 

Driving the ten hours from Louisville to Des Moines, Ella and I had great conversations ranging from her post-graduation plans to battling racism to GSA planning. Somehow, we got to talking about adultism and I brought up the fact that my response to the young man was actually pretty adultist. Why should we feel offended or embarrassed when “adults” are mistaken for youth? Why should we (especially as young adults) try to distance ourselves from looking or acting too “young”? It saddens and upsets me when straight people become angry or offended when they are mistaken as gay or lesbian – how is this any different? I look young. Many young adults look young. There’s nothing wrong with this. In fact, I’m more successful in my job because I look young – working informally with middle school and high school students is much easier when they realize that I’m not a “real” adult. I relish this; it means I can act young and be fun and still have effective working relationships with teens and pre-teens. So why do I get upset when other adults mistake me for being younger than I am? 

Society tells us that youth are reckless, immature, selfish, less intelligent, and irresponsible and that they should be talked down to. Clearly, I don’t want others to think that of me. But as a youth ally, I should instead see them as they are: as creative, energetic, open-minded, passionate, intelligent, mature, and thoughtful young people. Sure, some are impulsive and make bad decisions, but so do adults. Those negative traits are not specific to youth, and in order to be a better ally, I need to work on not automatically equating “young” with a lack of intellect and responsibility. 

I have such respect and love for the youth with whom I work; I don’t equate their worth or value to the number of birthdays they’ve had, and I am constantly in awe of their brilliance and passion. So the next time someone asks me where I go to college or to take my hat off in the high school hallway, instead of being offended, I will try to laugh and say thank you. 

Dana Stuehling is a 2011 graduate of Smith College where she studied Sociology focusing on race, gender and sexuality. As Outreach Coordinator with Iowa Pride Network, she works to support hundreds of LGBT and straight allied youth in Iowa. In her free time, Dana is playing with puppies, eating lots of garlic, thinking about privilege and oppression, examining her biracial identity, or drinking coffee. 

You can reach her at or 515-471-8063.

Friday, December 14, 2012

IPN applauds UI for LGBTQ Inclusive Admissions

Des Moines, IA – Iowa Pride Network (IPN) is applauding the University of Iowa for becoming the first public university to ask incoming students about their gender identity and sexual orientation.

“This is a huge step for the University and an important one for prospective LGBTQ students,” stated Ryan Roemerman, IPN executive director. “How colleges portray LGBTQ students in college admission materials sends a clear signal to LGBTQ students about how the university views them and their role in the institutional fabric.”

University of Iowa admissions wants to identify LGBTQ students and connect them to campus resources such as the U of I student group, GLBTAU (Gay, Lesbian Bisexual, Transgender and Allied Union—the longest, continually funded LGBT student group in the nation). 

Helping LGBTQ young people access such resources is important, as seen in the IPN’s College Climate Survey of LGBTQ students. In the survey, the majority of students (84.4%) reported attending campus LGBT group meetings with 56% reporting that they attend the meetings often or always, indicating how important these groups are for LGBTQ students.

A key recommendation from the Iowa College Climate Survey states that colleges and universities, “marketing and recruitment materials need to include LGBTQ students and reflect them in admission materials and other important documents.”

“What the University of Iowa is doing is providing a coordinated framework to provide support and resources to a population of students that are often overlooked. We applaud the University of Iowa for taking this step and hope that other colleges and universities follow their lead,” stated Roemerman.

About Iowa Pride Network
Iowa Pride Network empowers students to fight homophobia and transphobia in high schools and colleges by supporting gay-straight alliance (GSA) clubs and providing leadership opportunities and organizing projects centered on social justice. For more information call Iowa Pride Network at 515-471-8062 or visit

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Leadership Team Voices: Thomas

College: the most exciting time in your formal education

By Thomas Khongmaly, Leadership Team member

Well, it is in my opinion.

There is a plethora of interesting new things to try, a slew of classes to enjoy, and a multitude of people to get to know.  But there is also a lot of stress that comes. Managing your time well, eating healthy, and living your life on a college student’s budget are all very stressful things that will pervade throughout your college career. Let’s not forget you’ll have to do silly things like homework or study! It’s all part of being a college student.

But for many people there’s a really important, and very stressful, part: being themselves. While I mean this for everyone, I feel as though it may be a bit worse for people identify within the LGBT community. It’s almost as if you have to come out a second time. Or maybe this will be your first time ever telling anyone. Some of you may feel you are constantly exposing yourself, as you’ll be meeting new people through new classes every semester. Add this stress on top of everything, and you have the ingredients for what could be just as painful as high school might have been. Or worse, middle school. And nobody wants that.

So I thought I’d try to help you out and give you the three main insights learned throughout my time in college thus far on how to have the best college experience possible.

First: Choose a college that suits you.

This, of course, is aimed more towards people who will be going to college in the future. Many things factor into where you want to go. One thing you might consider is a religiously affiliated college versus a non-affiliated institution. If you want to be active in a GSA or the potential school’s equivalent, ask about it on your college visit. If they don’t know about it, don’t assume they are hiding it or don’t have one. Some people might not be aware it’s there. It’s hard to be in the know of all the things going on! The private school I attended for two years had a week dedicated to raising LGBT awareness on campus by bringing guest speakers in, hosting events, selling t-shirts, and having a drag show. Identifying as LGBT should not be a reason to eliminate a religious institution. Religion and being LGBT are not mutually exclusive.

Ultimately, choose somewhere you feel you’ll become a better person by attending. Don’t go to an institution you won’t enjoy attending. You’ll be unhappy and regret the choice to go there all the time. If you find you aren’t happy anymore and transferring is an option, do it. If it’s not an option, let’s try some of the other things here.

Second: Get involved.

Like I already mentioned, if you want to get involved with your school’s LGBT related club just ask around about it. If there isn’t one, start it. There’s no time like the present. Join a band and/or choir. Audition for a theater production. Find an intramural sport that would be fun to play. Go to the your college’s student organization fair. Student organizations are the best way to enrich your college experience and find friends who are interested in the same things as you are. If you become a major leader of that organization, such as a president, it will look great on your résumé. Most importantly, it’s a great way to have fun and get a break from your studies.

If you are interested in becoming involved in Greek life, do it. I have a close friend whose fraternity is completely fine with him being gay. Don’t let your preconceived notions about how fraternity or sorority members may react to someone who identifies as LGBT be a reason to dismiss becoming involved in this way. Fraternities and sororities do some pretty awesome things that you should yearn to be involved in!

Third: Be prepared to be yourself. Unyieldingly.

The beautiful thing about being in college is you aren’t stuck with the same group of people until graduation. You’re free to make new friends all the time, to socialize with whomever you like. If somebody doesn’t appreciate who you are, then you don’t have to deal with them. It’s much easier to do this in college with thousands of people around you, rather than in it was in high school.

That said, not everybody is going to be able to empathize with who you are. Everybody leads a different life. They might not understand you or be willing to relate to you. Don’t let this sway you in fully being yourself. You are you. There’s no reason to hide any aspect about yourself so people will like you.

That’s it. It’s all very simple advice, really, but I truly believe doing these things will give you the best college experience you could possibly have.

It has been said before. It will be said many times over.

College is what you make of it.

Thomas Khongmaly is an Industrial Design student at Iowa State University. An alumni of Winterset High School, Thomas was involved with their Diversity Club until 2009; he then spent two years at Wartburg College and was involved with their LGBT group, Alliance. Since transferring to ISU, Thomas's time is practically always filled with Design work, but when he find a free moment he enjoys reading on his Kindle, watching movies and eating.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Leadership Team Voices: Ellen

Growing Up Gender Blind
By Ellen Keyser, Leadership Team member

“Your Barbies can’t get married. They’re both girls!” my friend exclaimed, calling a halt to the proceedings in my bedroom. We were five and the Barbie wedding had been in the works for several hours. Dresses had been picked out, arrangements of dandelions made about the room, and my stuffed panda had been chosen to officiate the wedding. It was only when the brides themselves began down the aisle that we hit a snag. “Of course they can get married. They love each other.” I retorted and once again began to hum the processional. “But we have to have a Ken!” My friend stubbornly held onto her doll and crossed her arms. “No we don’t.” I huffed.
“Yes, we do.”
“No, we don’t.”
“Yes! We do!”
“No! We don’t!”
I won’t bore you with the rest of the argument, but suffice it to say that it went on that way for a good five more minutes before my friend hit me over the head with her Barbie and stormed out the door.
Growing up, the idea of “gender” never really bothered me. It was something that existed, but wasn’t necessarily relevant to my life. I was equally likely to wear striped overalls as a dress, and both were perfectly acceptable. My toy tractor and train collection was at least as extensive as my doll collection, and I never understood why boys and girls had to have different games on the playground.  When I was informed that I was a “girl” I was perfectly ok with that, but it was just like being assigned a random number. I knew the correct answer when asked by an adult, but it didn’t have any effect on my life.  Looking back at myself as a child I remember a lot of confusion. Why did it matter that I was a girl and he was a boy? Why was it important that two men were in love with each other? It just didn’t compute. It was like everyone else had some sort of rulebook that I didn’t. And it wasn’t really until middle school that I became aware just how different I was.
I first heard the word whispered as I walked down the hallway. In between giggles and curious stares the word “lesbian” followed me around like an ever-present shadow I just couldn’t shake. At first I was baffled. Why would anyone think that I liked girls? I obviously had a crush on the boy who sat next to me in band. And then, why would it matter if I liked girls? How was that different from liking a boy? My best friend attempted to explain to me that it just wasn’t “normal” for girls to like girls. I nodded and pretended to understand. My 7th and 8th grade years I decided I’d had enough of the bullying and began wearing bows in my hair, convinced my mother to buy me makeup, and attempted to fit in to the best of my ability.
It wasn’t until High School that I first heard the term “Gender Non-Conforming.” According to the “Sylvia Rivera Law Project” Gender Non-Conforming is defined as “people who do not follow other people’s ideas or stereotypes about how they should look or act based on the female or male sex they were assigned at birth.” The definition wasn’t perfect for me, but it was the closest I had come to finding a reason that I wasn’t accepted. Throughout my high school career it’s been a struggle to find my identity, and to discover that the same way that I couldn’t recognize labels, I don’t fit any.
I am what society would call a “straight female.” I was physically born a girl, who likes guys. But to me, those are just words, and always will be words. I am Ellen Keyser. I like the color orange, playing stupid card games, and laughing so hard I fall over. I’m not “straight,” I’m not a “tomboy” or a “girly-girl,” I’m just Ellen. And if it helps you, you can give my sexuality whatever labels you please. But ever since I was 3 years old, I’ve only seen people. And that’s all I will ever see.

Ellen Keyser is the president of the Indianola High School GSA and a member of Iowa Pride Network's Leadership Team. Ellen is actively involved in Drama, Theatre Crew, Speech Team, Debate, and Band. Ellen intends to go on to a four year college to study theatre and art. Ellen’s passion for equality came after witnessing the struggles of lgbtq friends and wanting to make a difference. Ellen’s Christian faith led her to fight for justice and safety for every one of her peers. To make a difference Ellen co-founded Indianola High School’s GSA. Ellen continues to be an outspoken individual not afraid to voice an opinion.