For Women’s History Month 2013, we are celebrating young women leadership in the Pennsylvania LGBTQ community. The KSV editorial staff have selected 13 young women who have become trailblazers for LGBTQ youth in our state for this three-part series. The youth selected provide deeply valued strength, resilience, and courage across our Pennsylvania community – who will surely continue to make headlines in the advocacy they lead. Last year, for the first time, we selected 12 women in 2012 who shine on as our key adult women LGBTQ community leaders. Thank you to all of the courageous young women leaders throughout the Keystone State who help lead our communities to be better places for all people.
Sipho Ndlovu, a senior at Messiah from Lebanon County, has spent her college career as a student advocate for change. Upon coming to Messiah, Sipho saw the need for a more intentional LGBTQ community to develop within the campus community. Her friend Isaiah Thomas began efforts to bring the community at Messiah together and to work with the school’s leadership to create change in policy regarding LGBTQ issues. After he transferred to a different school following significant anti-gay harassment, Sipho took up the cause of strengthening the LGBTQ community and working with Messiah College’s administration to make the campus more LGBTQ friendly. She helps connect fellow queer students with an unofficial group for LGBTQ members of the Messiah community.
Currently at Messiah College, due to a policy called the Community Covenant, official LGBTQ groups cannot be created. Without a formal group, the community at Messiah is unable to reserve a meeting room, which would provide a safe space for students without having to find members’ private apartments to gather in.
Sipho would like to see Messiah become more LGBTQ friendly. “Faculty should not have to feel that their jobs are in jeopardy because they call themselves allies.” She hopes that the unofficial group of LGBTQ students will have a safe space on campus to meet in the future.
Sipho advises young women who are working towards a greater LGBTQ presence on campus to start where their college is at, and work towards your goals from there. “Start with people you know, and what you know and then do your research.” She stresses the importance of being organized, conducting yourself in a mature fashion, and “having all your ducks in a row,” when approaching administration and others about creating change in your community. Sipho also advises student leaders to make sure your organization is sustainable, with multiple leadership roles, training, and recruiting to ensure that it will last beyond your time at the school. “Don’t let your organization die off.”
Sarah Hendry, of Camp Hill PA, is an undergraduate student at the University of Pennsylvania. In her freshman year, Sarah became involved with the Lambda Alliance, the university’s main LGBTQ group. Sarah saw that most of the LGBTQ groups were dominated by men and felt that there needed to be a larger presence of queer women on campus. As a result, she and two friends (get names) got together and started an unofficial group for queer women, called Queer Ladies at Penn. Through a private Facebook page to prevent outings, they created a network to allow queer women to meet up, make friends, and reach out to others on campus. In the past year, Queer Ladies at Penn has taken off as a formal group, and received funding from the university. Recently, the group has held programming on queer women and body perception.
Sarah is also a member and former Treasurer of J-Bagel, the Jewish LGBTQ community organization at the University of Pennsylvania. J-Bagel works to bring speakers to campus and educate the campus on Jewish LGBTQ issues, as well as host regular social gatherings and shabbat dinners with queer Jewish students and allies.
Sarah advises young women in the LGBTQ community to seek out like minded individuals to help work towards your goals, but to also pay attention to diversity and other identities within your community. “There are always going to be people interested in the same things as you, and who have the same values as you. Try to find people who might be different from you to get different perspectives, and a broader view of the community.”
Faith Elmes, of Landisburg, PA, is a sophomore at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and the Assistant Convener of the Pennsylvania Student Equality Coalition. During her freshman year at IUP, Faith became involved in the IUP Pride organization and was elected to the executive board of the group in the second semester of her freshman year. Pride’s former representative to PSEC no longer served on the executive board, and Faith felt it was important for someone to step up to the role.
Due to her close proximity to Harrisburg, Faith was able to attend many political events with PSEC over her summer break. She was elected Assistant Convener of the organization during the fall semester of 2012. As the Assistant Convener, Faith contacts member organizations’ of PSEC and keeps them informed and involved with PSEC activities. She also works with school representatives to train them in advocacy and activism.
Faith advises young women involved with LGBTQ advocacy and activism to not be intimidated by the importance of the work they are doing. “It can be intimidating to be around a bunch of guys in suits, but you’re supposed to be there. Have confidence that what you have to say is important.”
Shannon Fields is a junior at Shippensburg Area Senior High School in Franklin County, where she serves as the President of the GSA. South Central Pennsylvania has been on the front lines of social change in the past few months, with the recent approval of neighboring Big Spring High School’s GSA group and the fight to form a GSA in Chambersburg High School after the school board voted against forming one.
Shannon was elected President during the end of her Sophomore year, following the resignation of the group’s serving President. She became involved with the GSA as a Freshman and took on the role of Secretary in her Sophomore year. In the Summer of 2012, a friend of her’s who attended Big Spring High School reached out to Shannon and asked her to attend the school board meeting where the GSA would be voted upon. Shannon attended without intending to speak, but felt compelled to do so when she heard other speakers making negative and untruthful comments about the Day of Silence.
Shannon’s advice for other young women looking to be involved in LGBTQ advocacy and activism is to understand that at times, it will be hard, and you will deal with ignorance and prejudice, but to keep pushing forward. “Sometimes it feels like taking two steps forward and one step back, but as long as we keep making those two steps forward, we’re going to have equality,” says Shannon. She encourages students in schools without GSA’s or other LGBTQ groups to take the steps to establish one, and to involve yourself in community events as much as you can.