Penn State Brandywine 'Goes Purple,' talks LGBT equality

In a vivid expression of solidarity, thousands of Penn Staters, both on the Brandywine campus and throughout the world, wore an article of purple clothing on Wednesday, Oct. 20, a day designated as “Turn Penn State Purple,” to demonstrate against prejudice and bullying related to sexual identity.

Members of Penn State Brandywine’s Gay Straight Alliance (GSA), which includes students, faculty and staff, planned this daylong show of support as one of several programs and activities throughout the month of October--Gay History Month--to bring the issue of Lesbian Gay Transgender Bisexual (LGBT) discrimination to light.
Given the alarming surge of suicides, hate crimes and other forms of discrimination in the news recently, bringing the subject to the forefront was timely and educational.

The campus’ response to “Turn Penn State Purple,” was overwhelming, according to Matthew Shupp, director of student affairs.

“I was thrilled to see the number of people across campus embrace the campaign and wear purple,” he said. “This event transcended sexual identity, race, culture and customs. For me, the day was to celebrate people, to show that we need to celebrate people rather than tear each other down.”

Deborah Erie, director of enrollment management and GSA adviser, added, “We had Penn Staters in Italy, Japan and England who committed to wearing purple. The Facebook page (created for the event) had almost 1,500 members.”

In addition to this event, the campus recognized National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11, with “That’s so Gay,” a discussion of the hurtful and lasting impact certain words can have when used as slurs. Students, faculty and staff gathered in the Lion’s Den to share personal stories of experiencing hateful taunts or observing others exhibiting that kind of insensitivity.

Finally, nearly 40 students attended diversity workshops held on Oct. 20 and 21. On the first day, four Brandywine faculty members presented perspectives from their areas of expertise on the issue of diversity. Michael Madden, instructor in Health and Human Development, was the moderator and spoke about diversity from a psychological and social perspective; Paul Greene, associate professor of ethnomusicology, addressed the issue from an anthropological viewpoint; Karrie Bowen, instructor in communications, spoke from a mass media point of view and Julie Gallagher, assistant professor of history, presented the historical perspective.

On the second day, students met together to talk further about what had been presented and share their own experiences and ideas. The campus’ multicultural club as well as GSA sponsored the workshops.

“In conjunction with the Office of Student Affairs, the GSA has raised awareness of LGBT issues and has worked to provide an environment on campus that is welcoming to LGBT students, faculty and staff,” Erie said. “As the group’s adviser, I am very proud of this small group of students that has been able to achieve big results.”

Sophomore Rob Ewing, president of GSA, said the efforts to raise awareness this month could have a lasting effect. “No matter what campus you attend, Penn State is an honorable name which a student should feel proud of. Likewise, a student identifying as LGBT should be able to feel proud of who they are, especially while on campus,” he said. “It is through programs like these that this can be achieved, and acceptance can be gained. It is my hope that programs like this will not only serve as an example, but also will one day connect and improve communication between the LGBT organizations across the Penn State campuses.”

Shupp added, “LGBT awareness has always been important. However, it seems to have taken on greater importance with the most recent deaths of LGBT persons across the country. Hate is a learned behavior, and it can be unlearned if we simply take the time to embrace all individuals and celebrate each person’s uniqueness.”

The GSA is also planning its second semi-annual used book sale of more than 10,000 titles Nov. 20-22. This is the club's primary fundraiser to support these special programs on campus. For more information, contact Deb Erie at dje4@psu.edu.

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Last Updated October 25, 2010