by Adria Walker
Randle, a senior sociology major and African-American and psychology minor from Kosiusko, MS, is the President of Millsaps’ Pride organization. “Coming from high school in a very small town where I wasn’t able to be myself in the space I was in (made me initially want to join Millsaps’ Pride),” Randle said.
After making the decision to go to Millsaps, Randle says that they feared that, due to Millsaps’ Methodist affiliation, they still would not be able to comfortably exist as someone who does not subscribe to heteronormative boundaries. Randle found that, however, on arriving to Millsaps, they felt comfortable enough on campus to express themselves in whatever way felt right for them.
Randle said the necessity for a space like Pride that allows people to see others who experience similar things on a campus in which queerness is not the norm. “I’m not scared to walk out of my room and not look like a typical female [on Millsaps’ campus], or to be gay in all my spaces,” Randle said. “But, it’s different when you have that little space where you can really relate to other people… You want to see somebody who looks like you and [has experiences similar to yours].”
In 1978, San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker designed the gay pride flag, also known as the LGBT pride flag or rainbow flag. Recognizable almost immediately, each color on the pride flag represents something. Violet represents spirit; indigo/blue represents serenity/harmony; turquoise represents magic/art; green represents nature; yellow represents sunlight; orange represents healing; and red represents life. The flag, a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride and activism, is now used globally. In the Millsaps Bowl, a version of the pride flag flies from the balcony of the Leggett Center.
Millsaps’ flag utilizes the popular five-stripe flag (it is red, green, yellow, blue and violet), and says, “Millsaps College Supports Our LGBTQ+ Students” in large, white letters. Below the word support, is an outline of the state of Mississippi with Millsaps’ emblem over the heart over Jackson.
Though LGBT groups have succeeded in achieving increased national visibility in recent years, they are still largely kept out of the mainstream narrative. BiWeek week, which was from September 19 until September 26, for instance, passed with little to no significance on Millsaps’ campus or on a national scale.
Stickers that self-identify Millsaps as a safe space for LGBTQ students can be found around the campus, but what exactly constitutes a “safe-space” is largely up to interpretation.
Dr. Tamar Shirinian, a professor in the sociology-anthropology department, is the advisor of the Millsaps’ Pride organization.
“For me, a safe space would be a place through which a person could experience pain, vulnerability, necessary healing or any of those things without being given advice or being made to feel wrong for having those feelings,” Shrinian said. “I think feelings are really productive, and what often tends to happen is that once anger or frustration or sadness [happens], the space tries to lessen it so that the person can feel better, but sometimes, a safe space is a place where those feelings can be explored.”
Shirinian said that safe spaces are necessary for everyone.
“But, there are some people for whom the world at large is not a safe space, so those spaces become meaningful… For a campus, it would be important to have that for people who feel somewhat marginalized in what would be the ‘norm’ space—the classroom, the common spaces on the campus,” Shirnian said. She continues by saying that “safe spaces” are not necessarily institutionally sanctioned places, and are often times hard with family or friends.
Randle views a safe space as an area in which you can be who you are, but is also a place where you take criticism to help each other grow. “You can be free as hell,” Randle said.
Randle considers Millsaps to be a space where they can be themselves. “I’m able to come into any space and be queer at all times,” they said. “We could definitely have more resources for mental health awareness, because what [queer] people are going through mentally [is different from the experiences of heterosexual people], because they still have pressures being in the south and being in Jackson. Are people coming up to you and dogging you in your face? No. But you [might not know] how to maneuver through specific situations.”
Though Shirinian has not been at Millsaps long, this is her first semester, she has been able to interact with pride in such a way that she recognizes it as a safe space. “Pride is open about what they’re trying to do. They (are) open about who is allowed—which is everybody,” Shirinian said. “[They were] open about what they plan to do as an organization, so not in some politically motivated way, and not some kind of taking action, but as proving a space for people to belong in ways they might not be able to belong in other spaces, and I think that’s really great—I think that they’re providing something necessary and that they’re providing something they feel is necessary .”