Philly's community college launches GSA
by Angela Thomas
Dec 20, 2012 | 1033 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Students at the Community College of Philadelphia now have the option of a safe, LGBT-welcoming environment with the launch of the college’s Gay-Straight Alliance.

CCP student SharRon L. Cooks has attended the college for two years and said she found it hard to find support for LGBT students after she had some problems.

“My first year at CCP, I had some issues and there wasn’t a place I could go to for faculty or peer support,” said Cooks. “When I came back this year, I wanted to be more involved as a student, and I decided to create this group so we could have some safe space and resources available to students.”

Cooks has been involved with the Trans Health Conference and also serves as a volunteer and peer counselor at the William Way LGBT Community Center.

Currently, the group, which was started at the beginning of the fall semester, has 65 members. The college offered a GSA years ago, but it has long been defunct.

According to Cooks, in order to establish the organization, 10 students had to sign up. Cooks and a few other interested students had to ask students if they were interested in creating the GSA on campus, where some 39,500 students take classes.

Interested members had to have a minimum of a 2.0 grade-point average or have a 2.5 GPA to be a member of the executive board. Members could be full-time or part-time, as long as they’re currently enrolled in classes.

The process to activate the club took two-and-a-half months to complete. Cooks said the organization had to submit its paperwork three different times because some students who initially signed up did not meet the requirements.

Cooks said that although there was much interest in the group, staff members who are in charge of helping students bring new organizations onto campus or reactivate old ones weren’t particularly helpful in the process.

According to Cooks, the group has a lot of silent supporters among staff.

“Their level of advocacy is limited to some degree,” she said.

As for the college’s overall LGBT-friendliness, Cooks said it could do with a few improvements.

“From what I gather, CCP is not an LGBT-friendly campus. I think because of people and their religious beliefs, they don’t know about us and they haven’t learned about our culture and community,” she said.

Cooks ran into one issue involving the organization’s cubicle space, which is granted after a club is established.

She said the GSA chose to make its space a resource center, where students could collect guides that would help them with issues relating to gender identity and sexual orientation.

“Someone actually left an Islamic bible on our gender-identity guide,” she said. “You run into these types of issues. Everybody needs to be respected and that was one of our major challenges.”

While there were no other major issues, Cooks said the club intends to turn any challenges or future incidents into educational tools.

The GSA has not yet hosted any formal events, but it has forged relationships with faculty and participated in World AIDS Day.

“The faculty and staff set up a table for World AIDS Day and we gave out information on HIV/AIDS along with them,” Cooks said.

Over the break, students involved in the organization will get together to create a list of safe spaces around the Greater Philadelphia region that will be available for students.

Cooks also plans to press for the installation of a gender-neutral bathroom on campus. She also wants to continue to foster education about transgender people there.

“I want to move CCP to make an environment that is more LGBT-friendly, especially with the trans community. I want to get more trans people on campus and get them educated and empowered to make more of a difference,” she said.

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