I asked two members of the UW-Stout LGBTQA+ community who spoke at the vigil on Wednesday night, student Hailee Nelson and Dr. Markie Twist, to share their thoughts on how the tragic events in Orlando impact the UW-Stout LGBTQA+ community; along with their advice and words of hope for moving forward.
Hailee, a senior in the human development and family studies program, admitted this was a tough question to answer.
“A lot of it is so personal,” Hailee shared. After holding a small, personal vigil with friends on Sunday night, Hailee said that many of the attendees simply “don’t know how to feel” and they “don’t know if [they’ll] ever know how to feel.” Hailee bravely spoke about how angry people are and how much of an earthquake it was and still is to the members of the LGBTQA+ community.
Hailee explained,“All of these articles [are] saying 50 people dead at this night club in Orlando where all of these queer people of color go to hangout… nothing as big as this has happened before in our time… this is something on a bigger scale.” Hailee reflected on the tragedy with Matthew Shepard in the preceding generation and compares it to the recent events. “It’s something so big we’ve never had to deal with before. How am I supposed to comprehend something like this?”
Hailee then talked of the immense helpfulness and support of the community here at UW-Stout during difficult times. “The community we have here is amazing and I’ve heard it’s one of the best we have in the area; given the programs we have; having the Qube and how big our GSA (Gender and Sexuality Alliance) is.”
I asked Hailee how UW-Stout and our society as a whole can move forward.
“People think that now that we have marriage equality, the fight is over- but that’s not it at all,” said Hailee. “A big part of the battle is keeping the conversation going. I’ve talked to some of my peers and we’re afraid the conversation’s going to stop. Then it’s going to be back to just us fighting this fight again. We can’t let that happen.”
Hailee continued about the importance of talking and taking student safety seriously; also, how education plays a huge role in moving forward with the critical element of “doing it all with love.” Hailee commented, “That’s our biggest thing- right now we need to spread love; being hateful and attacking other people isn’t going to get us anywhere. You can’t fight hate with hate.”
As final words of hope and encouragement, Hailee stated, “For people in the community, my biggest advice is to take time to take care of yourself. Activism can get really heavy, but you can’t be a good activist unless you’re healthy and taking care of yourself.”
Hailee also added, “To people outside of it, really, honestly, the best thing you can do is be there. If you have a friend or a family member who’s queer, ask them ‘Are you okay? Are you doing okay?’ That’s all that we’re asking right now because it is still so fresh. We’re still having such a hard time comprehending all of it.”
The conversation didn’t stop there. Dr. Markie Twist, part human development and family studies program, specifically the family therapy program at UW-Stout, stated that it’s hard to know how “the biggest mass shooting ever recorded in this country” will impact the development of the identities of the LGBTQA+ community on campus.
“I can say, however, at least our students here at Stout are in a community of people that continue to be highly supportive, highly accepting and don’t tolerate the phobias and anti-queer sentiments.”
She mentioned the key steps moving forward. “I think education and activism, and of course as a clinician, making sure that students have access to the Qube as a resource for support; to the clinical services center for relation support, family support; and then our counseling center for individual support is absolutely imperative. Those are the three ways we will continue to do what we’ve been doing—just do even more.”
Dr. Twist spoke on the importance of starting today and how attending events like vigils plays a big role in healing and honoring those who lost their lives. She also mentioned how vigils show strength and bravery of the LGBTQA+ community that essentially makes the statement of, “we’re here and we will not be silenced.”
She added that there are opportunities at UW-Stout for students who wish to educate themselves. “If you’re looking for a gen. ed., we have a lifespan and sexuality class that talks about all of this. That helps people get in touch with their own ‘–isms’ and ideas and helps people process through that.” Dr. Twist reflected on the recent events and shared, “Who knows what could have happened had this particular individual had more awareness and support and diversity training… who knows?
On a final note, Dr. Twist shares some words of hope.
“One of my favorite quotes about hope is actually by a woman, Barbara Kingsolver…‘The very least we can do is figure out what we hope for and the most we can do is live inside that hope.’
Once we figure out what that hope is; which I think, really clearly is: we need to help our dominant majority of society learn that the ‘–isms’ will no longer be tolerated in our country.”
Thank you to Hailee and Dr. Twist for sharing their thoughts and words of hope.