Alumni discuss experiences during LGBTQ panel

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Charles Schumann and Tammy Taylor talk about how the men and women members of the gay community did not get along during their time at NIU during an open discussion with alumni in the Diversions Lounge held by the LGBT resource center Monday evening.

Hailey Kurth

Alumni spoke of their experiences before, during, and after attending NIU at the first annual Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) Alumni Panel Monday night.

“We wanted current students to have an opportunity to find out what it was like here on campus before they got here and also to learn from the experience of alumni about what it’s like post-NIU,” said Molly Holmes, director of the LGBT resource Center.

To start the night, the panelists talked about what their lives were like when they attended NIU. Danielle Simmons, NIU alumna and counselor, said even though the LGBT community was very accepting, she remained “closeted” for most of the time. When he went to NIU, Charles Schumann Jr., NIU alumnus and IT manager, said it was rather easy to be “out,” but as a community member in DeKalb in the 1980s, it was harder. There was counseling available at NIU, but it wasn’t very helpful with the “coming out process,” Schumann said.

“Basically you had your friends, and you had your made-up family, for coming out,” Schumann said. “That was the only support, at least when I first came to DeKalb.”

NIU wasn’t the safest place for the LGBT community when he was at school, Schumann said. He said dances and private parties were sometimes crashed and party-goers from the LGBT community were harassed and assaulted.

Tammy Taylor, DeKalb community member and a Gay/Lesbian Union activist, said when she was younger, it was frightening to walk around holding her girlfriend’s hand. She said to this day, she still feels a little afraid to show affection.

Growing up as a Christian, Simmons said she felt more emotionally afraid to “come out.”

“I never felt threatened,” Simmons said. “They never tried to beat me up, but they certainly would make me feel bad about hanging out with ‘the gays.’”

Morrissey said being involved in Prism at NIU helped with being “out” at work. Over time, Schumann said being involved in the LGBT community has given him the skills and confidence to push ahead.

Taylor said she believes youths are doing a “phenomenal” job educating others about LGBT. Taylor credited much of the success to new technology and the use of the Internet.

Schumann said the small things the LGBT community does today will effect the next generation.

“You won’t know your effect for 10 or 20 years,” Schumann said. “There’s no way I could have realized what we were doing back then and how it would affect your generation.”