New Queer Peer program reaches out to educate

by David Todd

The Multicultural Resource Center's (MRC) new Queer Peer program has more than a catchy name: it also has a mission to mentor students in need of support and education about sexual orientation.

On Oct. 10 the Multicultural Resource Center (MRC) sent 10 students to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) workshop in Lakewood, Ohio.

The Oberlin group's attendance at the workshop, pronounced "glisten," marked the first official action of the new Queer Peer program.

MRC intern Cara Wick, the community coordinator for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) students, heads the new program. It currently has 47 members and is, according to its mission statement, "A gay and lesbian education program to high schools in Lorain County."

Oberlin students are self-trained to facilitate workshops on homophobia, gender and sexuality and diversity in general. Queer Peers also seek to provide a safe connection to students at these schools who have already come out of the closet, to help them deal with the homophobia they encounter from high school peers and/or faculty and administrators.

The Queer Peer program was initially a new name for the MRC's previously existing Big Brother/Big Sister program. This program set first-year students up with upperclass LGB students in a social context. Wick said that participants of the program quickly found that, "Age doesn't always equal experience. The Queer Peer Program evolved from an internal Oberlin project into an outreach program when its members realized a common desire to work with high school LGB students."

First-year Lynn Hickman went to high school in Shaker Heights, outside of Cleveland. "I felt like I was the only gay person there," Hickman said of her reasons for wanting to be part of the Queer Peer program.

Hickman participated in the group's first "gig" at Lorain County Community College (LCCC) on Nov. 25. Five students made a presentation at LCCC on the morning of the 25th to students there. Although the group hopes to focus future presentations on high school students, Hickman said the visit to LCCC was "a good learning experience." The presentation started off by asking participants to write down favorite places, high school friends, hopes and dreams, and then explained how all of these things could be denied to a person on the basis of sexual orientation.

Since the GLSEN conference, the members of the group have been training for their presentations using role-playing. It has been important for the Queer Peer groups to determine their approach to the presentations. They have had to ask themselves questions about their approach, debating whether to emphasize tolerance and the idea that they are just like everyone else or to acknowledge their difference as a strength.

The Queer Peers are divided into groups of six that will work together and must decide issues like this among themselves. The groups are meant to be made up so as to be diverse in terms of race, class and religion.

The Queer Peers' long range goals, said Wick, are to visit two or three high schools each semester and put out a handbook on how to form a queer peer program.

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Copyright © 1997, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 126, Number 11, December 5, 1997

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