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Event provides chance for Ohio State’s LGBT community to ‘be themselves’

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Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students made their Q-Pid Semi-Formal Extravaganza and Gender Fluid Showcase a place to gather and be themselves.

OSU students and others performed dances, original songs and poetry, mostly focusing on the LGBT community and gender identity, Friday at the Ohio Union’s Performance Hall. One of the event’s sponsors was SHADES OSU, a campus group “dedicated to fostering connections between the racially/ethnically multicultural, LGBT student community and our allies,” according to the Office of Student Life’s website.

OSU students were able to attend a casting call before the event to audition, and many other participants were invited because they participate in a monthly Fusion program, which unites people of LGBT communities in various Columbus-area colleges and universities.

The performance hall’s stage provided a place where performers could sing and dance, but some also walked into the audience, which was encouraged to stand near the stage rather than sit at tables that had been used before the show to eat provided pizza and cake.

Some dancers performed solo, while others danced as a group, and the show even brought a dancer from the burlesque show “Viva! and the Velvet Hearts!” Many performers were dressed in drag, some were dressed gender-neutrally and others were dressed gender-traditionally, showing the diversity that could be found at the show.

The MC, Kit Yan, has performed at various slam poetry events, and appeared in “Asians Aloud,” an HBO documentary. Yan hosted a slam poetry workshop before the show Friday to help students fine-tune their performing and public speaking skills. He also emphasized the importance of having a safe place to gather, because not every place is safe for people of the LGBT community.

Yan read poetry about topics as diverse as his gender transformation, to how he reacts when people he doesn’t know ask him about his gender, to how his family has handled his gender identity and transformation.

Another reader spoke of how she is a “triple-threat minority” in one poem, which expressed the identity issues surrounding the LGBT community focusing on racial minorities.

Cherie Shanko, a fourth-year in psychology, said as a gay student, she tries to come to events like this, and she mentors younger students who might be struggling with coming out or being themselves as part of the LGBTQ First-Year Cohort Program via the Multicultural Center. She said events like this are designed “to meet and socialize with other people.”

“It’s to get you acclimated to gay life on campus,” Shanko said. “Come hang out with us, meet other gay students … and then at the end of cohort we try to, like, funnel out to other organizations like SHADES.”

Bianca Labarbera, a third-year in animal science, said she had been to other drag shows at the Union before, but this was her first gender fluid showcase. She said she was really interested in the poetry readings, her favorite being the one with wich Yan ended, which spoke of how his little brother handled his gender transformation and how he had been really supportive of it.

“I thought it was pretty awesome. A couple of the performances were drag performances but were a little more conservative than the other drag shows I’ve been to, but very similar,” Labarbera said. “I’ve never been to an event where there was spoken word, and I was really surprised by how moving it could be. I almost came to tears at the end of the last poem.”

LGBT students are not always comfortable being themselves if they will be singled out, such as at semiformals and talent shows put on by other groups, said Rashida Davison, a fourth-year in film studies.

Davison, co-president of SHADES OSU, one of the hosts of the event, said the group hopes “to provide a safe space for LGBT people of color to talk about their intersections of race, ethnicity, gender identity and sexuality.”

“SHADES is just like different, you know, parts of your identity,” Davison said.

The group began as a support group, but now holds events such as the semiformal, which they helped host last year, and the gender fluid showcase, which was new this year.

Davison mentioned the importance of allies to the LGBT community being involved with these events and spreading opportunities to educate those who are not as aware of those individuals and the struggles they face.

“I noticed that there were a lot of allies there as well, so it was educational for them,” Davison said. “Some of the people who were performing were speaking on their own experiences. So it’s a learning experience for allies and then it’s more like affirmation for people within the community. So it’s like a, ‘You aren’t alone,’ like, ‘You aren’t going through this by yourself.'”

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