The Daily Gamecock

Students serve LGBT community in Washington

Alternative Winter Break focuses on advocacy


While thousands of Gamecock fans traveled to Tampa, Fla., over break to attend the Outback Bowl, a smaller contingent of USC students traveled to the nation’s capital for a week of advocacy learning and volunteer service.

Community Service Programs hosted an Alternative Winter Break trip for the first time, as eight students and an adviser met with national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy organizations in Washington, D.C., to bring back insight and ideas for awareness and action at USC.

Community service intern Noël Marsh, a third-year religious studies and psychology student, was responsible for organizing the trip. She said she was not aware of the plight of the LGBT community until she began researching and planning.

“I had gay friends, and I was sort of passively an ally, but I really didn’t understand how big the problems were socially. It really opened my eyes ... I would call this the civil rights cause of our generation,” Marsh said. “For me it was sort of a wake-up call that this is important.”

The trip included meetings with and presentations from Amnesty International, the Human Rights Campaign, Victory Fund, and Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). Marsh said the goal was to get a sense for what the group could bring back to USC for LGBT advocacy.

“(It’s about) making it pertinent in your community,” Marsh said. “South Carolina obviously has some difficulty with its LGBT friendliness.”

Forth-year music student Ari Lindenbaum said he went on the trip because he was interested in seeing different people’s approaches to LGBT advocacy. The real issue for advocates, he said, is finding “what’s behind people not accepting other people, and why [it isn’t] equal already.”

“The groups that we talked to were either top-down or bottom-up (in their approaches), where you can either start with the laws or with (social) acceptance,” Lindenbaum said. “It was really interesting that some of the organizations were more interested in changing marriage laws and some were more interested in exposing and educating people. (It was) seeing one issue through many lenses.”

Marsh said the group is considering holding forums to discuss LGBT topics with other groups on campus and bringing the social discussion to the state congress to raise support for and awareness of LGBT rights and other acceptance issues.

Marsh said she would also like to look into bringing a chapter of PFLAG to Columbia. PFLAG is a national ally organization committed to “advancing equality through its mission of support, education and advocacy,” according to its website.

“Their main goal is to change hearts and minds, cultures and attitudes, and that’s what really needs to happen if all the legal stuff is going to make any impact,” Marsh said. “(PFLAG is) really well positioned to bring about social change.”

In addition to meeting with advocacy organizations, the group spent two days volunteering with Food and Friends, a nonprofit organization that delivers meals and groceries to people in the D.C. area living with HIV, AIDS, cancer and other life-challenging illnesses.

The group also spent time touring national monuments, the Holocaust Museum and the U.S. Capitol, which Lindenbaum said got him thinking about social change both broadly and more closely relative to the LGBT movement.

“I think there’s a lot more support out there than I thought, which is good, and it made me more hopeful for change. And I think change will come about,” Lindenbaum said.

There will be six Alternative Spring Break trips this semester, emphasizing animal rescue in North Carolina, disaster relief in Alabama, poverty in Florida and Tennessee, environmental awareness in Florida, and disaster relief and poverty in Louisiana.

An interest meeting for these trips will be held Wednesday at 1 p.m. in Russell House Room 205. Alternative Spring Break applications are due Jan. 23 and can be accessed on the Community Service Programs Web page.