Space for the trans community

A drag show at the Community College of Philadelphia is among the various events and activities centered around the LGBTQ+ community. (Photo: CCP)

In fall 2022, Community College of Philadelphia (CCP) was navigating a return to campus as Covid restrictions lifted, and the process of transitioning many programs to hybrid events. For our MarcDavid LGBTQ Center, reviving the LGBTQ+ Club became a top priority.

Editor’s note: This article is the second in a series this month focused on Pride Month.

Students have always been an integral part of the center, but the club became inactive at the end of the spring 2020 semester when club leadership graduated and pandemic Zoom fatigue set in. We managed to keep our students fairly engaged on YouTube Live, but it had been a long time since we were able to experience a sense of a close-knit queer community on campus.

As we began the search for the required four-student executive board, we also started to sort through the data collected by our institutional research department from a college-wide 2022 LGBTQ Climate Survey. One thing was apparent immediately: Our transgender students reported having a very different experience than other LGBTQ students. Trans students were more likely to experience microaggressions and felt more vulnerable to violence and harassment than their LGB peers.

What a survey showed

We know the general public has a wide knowledge gap when it comes to trans identities, so we’ve focused our programs on educating the campus community and providing trans-specific events to make our campus safer. However, the climate survey showed while we had made progress, there was still more work to be done to provide space for the trans community to come together IN community on campus. They needed a place to socialize, to vent and to get support.

The LGBTQ+ Club tables at a recent CCP event. (Photo: CCP)

So, in spring 2023, we launched the Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Student Support Group in conjunction with the Women’s Outreach and Advocacy Center and the Counseling Center. Little did we know at the time that this would lead to the creation of one of the most active of the 125 clubs on campus.

LGBTQ+ Club met after the support group every week, which enabled support group attendees to easily join the larger club. I watched as friendships and relationships started to form as students would bring more and more friends with them to both groups.

Within a few weeks, the club started meeting twice per week because students wanted more time together. We had our events calendar set for the rest of the year, but when the club asked for a prom, we were going to do whatever we needed to do to make that happen. Within one semester, we had gone from a club with four members to our first Queer Prom having 80 students and guests in attendance.

Growing stronger

The social aspects of the club became even stronger than before the pandemic, and the students set their sights on activism and advocacy. As a result, students voted to change the club’s name to Queer Student Union (QSU) to reflect their goals to make CCP a better place for LGBTQ+ Students.

The QSU held elections in May and the new executive board hit the ground running with planning for our first in-person pride events since lockdown, reviving an annual tradition that could not be replicated during Covid. Pride is an integral part of our community. It is where many of us felt a sense of queer community for the first time. A space where many of us explore our identity and have permission to unapologetically express our queerness outwardly.

For many, this space is a rarity that they can only experience once per year, but QSU became that space year-round thanks to the intention and inclusivity promoted by student leadership. Their enthusiasm for partnering with the center to provide a full events calendar added several events specifically for subcultures and less-represented identities, like Intersex Awareness Week and Bisexual Health Awareness Month.

This increased involvement from students also led to the creation of LGBTQ+ History Month, with an impressive 11 programs in October alone, and doubled our programming offerings from the previous year. As of this month, QSU has about 110 active members, and our second annual Queer Prom had more than 100 students and guests in attendance.

And to think: It all started because we saw a group in need of community on campus and provided that space.

About the Author

Vinni Scarfo
Vinni Scarfo, M.Ed., is coordinator of the MarcDavid LGBTQ Center at the Community College of Philadelphia.
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