The drive for equality and acceptance of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community is still a work in progress; advocates and allies work every day to make a positive difference. The latest source of such support comes from Eastern Michigan University’s Center for the Study of Equality and Human Rights, kicking off its first active semester with EMU’s First Annual Advocacy Speech Competition.
“The idea for the speech competition came through brainstorming ways to kick off the Center,” said Dennis Patrick, director for the CSEHR. “This is our first semester as an active center and so we were looking for a way to make ourselves known to the campus and here we are.”
The 2011 Advocacy Speech Contest focuses on the issue of bullying as it relates to LGBT youth, and is looking to EMU undergraduate students and Washtenaw County Area youth for perspectives on ways of “making it better now.”
“The Let’s Make It Better Now competition was inspired by the It Gets Better Project but it’s not exactly the same thing,” said Meggie Brammer, graduate assistant for the CSEHR. “We want to inspire high school students to help stop the bullying now and recognize we all have rights and should be able to live without bullying each other.”
The CSEHR Speech Competition picks up where the It Gets Better project left off and addresses one of the project’s criticisms.
“I think It Gets Better is a wonderful idea,” said Patrick. “Though I don’t think it’s a fair analysis, one of the criticisms of the It Gets Better project has been that it sort of tells LGBT youth to just ‘hang in there,’ and is more future-focused, rather than focusing on what we can do now.
“What we’re hoping to do with our speech competition is to add to that. In addition to saying ‘hang in there,’ we want to shine a light on ‘okay, that’s good but what can we do now to help LGBT youth and adults?’”
Such a mission wouldn’t exist without funding, which the CSEHR is gracious to have available. Without funding through grants, the speech competition couldn’t exist on the scale it does now.
“We wouldn’t be able to hold this competition without the help of the Michigan Campus Compact Grant,” Brammer said. “We came up with the idea for the Lets Make It Better Now project but we had to find the funds to do it, so we applied for the Michigan Campus Compact Grant and we were awarded just under $3,500. They’re a big reason why we’re able to have this competition, get the judges involved and have a cash prize. They put us in this position and we’re grateful for it and really want to acknowledge that.”
In addition to funding, such a center would need a vision and leaders to guide it and that’s where Tim Dyer and Patrick rise to the occasion.
“The Center was the vision of Tim Dyer, an alumnus of this communication, media and theatre arts department,” said Patrick. “I think he wanted the center to be connected because this is where he graduated from with his degree in communication.
“I was invited to be part of the planning stages for the pledge he made to get the center started up and based on that I was given an invitation to be director of the Center. And since he’s gay and I’m gay, I think he was hoping to have a gay face for the Center in that they would understand the issues and have lived through the issues.”
The CSEHR differs from other campus organizations in that it isn’t just a way for students and researchers to meet but also serves as a resource of LGBT research, past and present.
“Students are welcome to use it as a resource but our main focus is LGBT research,” said Brammer. “Our long-term goal for the center is to be the regional hub of LGBT research so that anybody interested in doing research in this area is welcome to find research that’s been done in the past and connect with other researchers.”
Members of the CSEHR hope students and other researchers will take their findings beyond the classroom and find ways to apply this knowledge in other settings.
“Our primary mission is to support student and faculty research as it relates to equality and human rights, especially as it relates to the LGBT community,” said Patrick. “Our goal is to help students and faculty do that research, not just to do it for a conference or a class, but to find ways to take it outside the campus and use it to literally make the world a better place. The applied nature of this research is really important.”
The recorded speeches submitted to the judges won’t stop there. The CSEHR hopes to distribute these messages to those who need to hear it most.
“We’ll be making two videos from the speeches,” said Brammer. “We’re going to collect them and make a short video to put online and a longer video with snippets from a whole bunch of speeches that we’ll also put online and share with schools in the area, and the Eastern community, to get our word out on LGBT bullying.”
The CSEHR is currently taking submissions for the First Annual Advocacy Speech Competition. Filmed speeches should be 4-7 minutes in length and is open to EMU undergraduate students and Washtenaw County Area youth ages 16-24.
The deadline for submissions is Dec. 1. Visit www.makeitbetternow.weebly.com for more information.w
Though the cash prize will fill the pockets of two winners, there’s an award to this competition that is priceless.
“We hope the winner of this competition also wins the sense that they’re making a difference in the lives of youth and young adults,” said Patrick. “We’re hoping to have a showcase at the MLK Day Celebration of the winning speeches and we’re giving out cash awards for students and youth in the community who participate. The top award for both an EMU student and person in the community is $500 each. We’re also going to take clips from those different speeches and make a DVD and distribute that free of charge to local GSA and PFLAG organizations as well as make it available on our website.”
This competition will give participants a chance to raise awareness and also strengthen a sense of one’s unity to the movement of working toward a common goal: ending homophobic bullying.
“We, as Eastern students, have a voice and that we can make an impact by coming together,” said Brammer. “I think it’s important that the audience of our message doesn’t have to accept bullying and wait until after high school or college to wait for our lives to get better. We can do it now.”