The Daily Gamecock

LGBT rights defended

Former Utah state representative, SC native Christine Johnson advocates greater equality, protection of local gay community

There was an air of excitement at Wardlaw College as LGBT students, faculty, community members and straight allies gathered to hear former Utah State Rep. Christine Johnson, the new executive director of South Carolina Equality Coalition, deliver the first address of Speak Out Loud.

Speak Out Loud is an educational lecture series sponsored by SafeZone, a branch of Student Health Services dedicated to supporting the LGBT community and fighting homophobia.

“This is historic,” said third-year visual communications student Zac Baker, a public relations officer for the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian Student Alliance. “This is the first lecture series to deal with LGBT issues; it shows there are definite climate changes, not just across the nation but here on campus as well.”

However, the atmosphere soon became serious as Johnson discussed the major barriers and prejudices faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens, not only in the work force and in legislation, but also within the larger LGBT community itself. Johnson, a South Carolina native, emphasized the need to work with other minority groups and promote understanding between different LGBT racial and social subgroups in order to secure legal protection of family life and employment opportunities as well as protection against hate crimes and domestic violence for people of all sexual orientation.

Johnson also called for the community to redefine itself and strengthen its message while maintaining authenticity. She discussed matters of religion, encouraging the audience to keep an open dialogue with the faith-based communities and support gays and lesbians who wish to maintain a faith life.

“We have to meet people where they are and remind them who we are,” Johnson said. “All it takes is a small push, and it’s the small things that make significant changes.”

According to Johnson, there are two pro-equality proposals circulating in the South Carolina legislature this year; one addresses anti-gay bullying while the other protects against anti-gay hate crimes.

“We are South Carolinians — this is our home,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, our state has a reputation for not being progressive, and we fake pride in being a little bit backward. I’m hoping the LGBT community here can decide that moving slowly is not OK. There’s not going to be a change until we decide to be empowered.”

Four more speeches will ensue this semester as part of the Speak Out Loud series, covering topics such as the foundation of BGLSA, parental involvement in securing LGBT rights, the SafeZone Ally service on campus and making schools safer for “gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer questioning and intersex students.” The next address, featuring USC alumnus Tony Price, who sued the university in the early 1980s in order to establish BGLSA, will take place Monday, Feb. 21 in Gambrell Hall.