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Open Doors Ally Meeting Opens Minds and Hearts While Answering Uncomfortable Questions

Open Doors Ally Group Photo with the rainbow flag after the meeting. (Northern Review photo/Jennifer Kolb)

The Polar Bear Ally’s group had an informational meeting for staff, faculty, students and the community to come together to learn more about what a Polar Bear Ally is and why they should become a Polar Bear Ally, and how as a Polar Bear Ally they can have a positive effect on the campus of Ohio Northern University and the community of Hardin County.

“It was originally called faculty ally training sessions and it is put on by Open Doors” said, President of Open Doors, Sarah Schyllander. “This year, we decided to re-brand it and open it to students.” mentioned Sarah. “This helps answer and ask questions about the LGBT+ community.” added Sarah.

Open Doors is the Gay-Straight Alliance on the campus of Ohio Northern University and their mission is to promote awareness, foster diversity, provide support, and – above all – educate the ONU, and Ada communities along with others on issues relating to the LGTB+ community. There are many gender identifications and romantic identifications that are not included, but this is the most up to date acronym for LGBTQQIP2SAA – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Pansexual, 2-spirt, Asexual and Ally.

“Typically, it is what the person feels, is what you go for”, added Sarah when asked for clear definitions of LGBT+. “Sexuality and gender is on a spectrum. It is on a scale from zero to six. So, a person can identify with a zero being straight male or all the way to a six and be a gay male.  But, most people fall in-between.” That is the basis of the human sexuality scale.

Approximately twenty people, consisting of students and staff, filled a classroom in the communication and media studies building on the campus of Ohio Northern University to learn more about the responsibilities that are required of an Open Doors Polar Bear Ally.

This is not the first meeting for Open Doors Alliance by any means, they started over ten years ago. “I know Open Doors began in 1991.” said Sarah. Sarah was not sure when the training sessions started, even though they have been around for the last five years, because Sarah has been on campus that long here at Ohio Northern University.

“It became a way to educate faculty and staff on how to handle situations with LGBT+ students, what to call them and how to respond.” added Sarah.

The meeting comes with a lot of different questions from the community and ONU students, faculty and staff. “The presentation covers a lot of typically asked questions” mentioned Sarah. “The presentation also comes with a manal that is available online that we will send to everyone who is present there and they can check the manual if they have any questions if they do not feel comfortable asking questions.” chimed in Charlie Barr, Open Doors secretary.

Those in attendance also learned about The Pride Flag and what the colorful flag represents. Gilbert Baker created the flag in 1978, but there were two additional colors. Today, there is red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet. Red stands for light. Orange represents healing. Yellow is for the sun. Green stands for natural serenity. Blue is for art and harmony. Finally, violet is for spirt.

They enjoyed snacks, like: chips, cheese, grapes and bottled water, while Cheyann Schadewald, the Open Doors Polar Bear Ally Liaison, presented a half hour informational presentation on the duties of becoming a polar bear ally.

Cheyann also touched on the stages of identity development and the challenges of coming out.  An example of female to male transgender is Jaimie Wilson. He is open to talking with others who have questions, are curious, or want to connect with Jaimie for help and guidance in their own lives.

Cheyann also had a list of vocabulary and the do and don’t for communication with the LGBT+ community. Also, HIV and AIDS quick facts, for example someone cannot get HIV by sharing a drink. The virus only comes from bodily fluids entering the bloodstream through a fresh break in the skin, like a cut. The importance of gay marriage, heterosexual privilege and the polar bear mascot has been around 1923. The rainbow flag and the colors as a symbol of its own identity and the diversity and unity of the community.

Those who attended the meeting could sign a form stating they would be an Open Doors polar bear ally and respect others who came to them to talk about their confidential and personal challenges. They listed personal information, so those who need help can reach out easily. Those in attendance who signed also received a certificate stating they are a polar bear ally.

“We are just normal people. Charlie is a student in the pharmacy college and is absolutely amazing.” said Sarah when asked about how the Ada and ONU community can overcome stigmas of the LGBT+ community.

Charlie Bahr, ONU Polar Bear Ally Secretary, added that for him,

“For me I really wish . . . I really like these ally stickers that we hand out at our training session, we give out a rainbow polar bear sticker, professors put them on their doors. For me, when I see those, those are the professors I am more likely to make friends with and I know that they would understand my issues and how I interact with ONU’s campus. I like that . . . that people showing they are an ally, so I do not have to hide anything about myself with them.”

Making a difference on the campus of ONU and the community of Ada is part of the reason why becoming a polar bear ally is important. It shows support of the LGBT+ community and there are those they can reach out to for assistance. Also, it is important to meet other allies on campus and connect with them.

There were two speakers, with a PowerPoint presentation, and a question and answer period after the end of the presentation. The presentation was recorded, but if there was a personal question, it could be answered after the recording was turned off or asked personally by an Open Doors polar bear ally member. Anyone could leave the presentation at any time, without question.

The second speaker was, Emily Peters, who spoke about the One Love Foundation and the workshop that accompanies it. It started in 2010 to honor the memory of Yeardley love. Her life ended in an abusive relationship. One love dedicates their work to Yeardley Love, her memory, and educating people on the signs of abuse to help others escape abusive relationships.  

To be an Open Doors Ally, one needs to be supportive of the LGBTQ+ community preferred traits include: empathetic, selfless, understanding, willing to travel outside of comfort zone, patient, and flexible and open-minded. Allies need to provide support and information to individuals who approach them. There are also actions that an ally is not expected to do, like be an expert on sexual orientation, to hear intimate personal details, and to participate in political activities involving gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and other issues.

When I asked why anyone in this area, of Ada and ONU, should come to an Open Doors Ally meeting, Charlie also added that, “Learn to be a better ally and how to support your students. You don’t necessarily have to learn all of the terminology we use. Like, I know a lot of the terminology, but I would not expect those who want to be an ally to know every single thing about the LGBT+ community, you just need to understand our differences and what we expect of allies to do for us and it is not a huge requirement.”

There are four basic steps to becoming an ally, including: awareness, education, skills, and action. Examples of harassment, how to fill out an example harassment form, an agreement, session review, and then an overall manual of guidelines was the final actions of the meeting.







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