The Hive reflected a rainbow of colors recently as Eastfield students of different sexual orientations, gender identities, religions and nationalities came together to express their identities through the art of tie-dye.
The “Express Yourself” event on Oct. 29 was part of the college’s celebration of LGBT History Month, but student program coordinator Jide Carew said the event was intended for a wider audience as well.
“With events like these, people are more able to break down barriers if there is a commonality and if they’re doing something together,” he said.
Carew stood at a table strewn with Harvester T-shirts, gloves and rubber bands as he explained the activity to the group of students who gathered around him.
“You’re expressing your self-identity through your coloring of the T-shirt, if you identify in the [LGBTQ] community or you don’t,” he said. “This right here is a Harvester T-shirt, and this is to show that everyone can have their individual colors. That’s what makes us unique, but we’re all still Harvesters at the end of the day.”
Workstations containing plastic bottles of brightly colored dyes were set up throughout the Hive. Pictures of flags from the LGBTQ community, Latin America and Africa were displayed on the tables to give participants ideas for decorating their T-shirts.
Adama Busari stood by the African flags and pointed to the one from her home country, The Gambia. Busari, a nursing major who came to the United States in 2017, identifies as a Muslim. She was planning to display her heritage by coloring her T-shirt red, blue and green like the Gambian flag.
“Gambia is a very small country,” she said. “A lot of people don’t [get to] meet Gambians.”
At another table, Sandra (whose last name was omitted to protect her identity) was already in the process of squeezing pink, blue and purple dye into the white fabric of her T-shirt. She said the colors she chose were for the bisexual pride flag.
Sandra identifies as bisexual in public but not at home because of the religious convictions of her family.
“I have to live, in a way, two different lives,” she said.
Sandra, a drama major, said clothing is an important part of self-expression because it can be used to give people a voice and a way to tell the story of who they are.
Laramie Patton, a 22-year-old marine biology major who uses the pronouns they/them, decorated their shirt in a rainbow pattern. Before college they struggled with their own identity and self-expression, but joining clubs and making friends with people who have the same ideas helped them open up.
“I’ve never felt unable to express myself here at Eastfield,” Patton said.
Patton credited Carew and the student club Prism, whose purpose is to support the LGBTQ community on campus, for making positive strides in the campus climate in recent years. However, they said there are still improvements that could be made.
“Teachers getting on board with trans kids and their name changes, better use of preferred pronouns and maybe even a gender-inclusive bathroom,” Patton suggested.
Currently, the bathrooms on the second floor of the F Building near A Building are being renovated to single stall bathrooms.
Alex Silva, a 16-year-old bisexual and transgender student who uses they/them pronouns, also attended the event as a way to socialize with like-minded students.
“I knew who I was by the time I was 4 years old,” Silva said, “but I didn’t come out to anybody until I was a freshman in high school. I gained confidence in myself, and I didn’t want to hide who I was anymore.”
Silva said the coming-out process was frustrating and confusing at first because friends and family “didn’t get it,” but it wasn’t long before they felt accepted. While the LGBTQ movement has been around for decades, major advancements in LGBTQ rights have been fairly recent. Same-sex marriage was legalized in 2015, and popular politicians like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have only recently publicly supported same-sex marriage –Obama in 2012 and Clinton in 2015. A Gallup poll published in May showed that support in the U.S. for gay marriage was at 63 percent.
This year the United States Supreme Court is hearing multiple cases related to LGBTQ rights.
Including three cases about work place discrimination and whether employers can fire employees based on their sexual orientation or identity.
Not all cultures show this same level of support for the LGBTQ community.
Kayle Rodriguez, an Eastfield student, sat toward the back of the Hive with her completely dyed T-shirt in a small bundle on the table in front of her. Rodriguez does not identify as LGBTQ, but she chose to dye her shirt in the rainbow colors of the pride flag out of love and respect for them.
Rodriguez, whose parents are from Mexico, said she is disturbed by the rejection that LGBTQ individuals experience in the Hispanic culture. Hispanics tend to hold to the traditional view of marriage, and it is difficult for some of them to accept the LGBTQ perspective. Rodriguez said she has had friends whose families kicked them out of the house for identifying as LGBTQ.
“As Latinos, we need to support our own people who are LGBTQ,” she said. “No more violence, no more egoism. We need to show humility.”
The Express Yourself event was originally supposed to last for two hours, but within 45 minutes all the T-shirts were gone due to the large number of students who participated.
In addition to being fun, Carew said the event was designed to be a learning experience for those who were not familiar with the LGBTQ community. As someone who considers himself as an “ally in training,” he said he hoped the students who attended took some lessons away.
“Eastfield is a place that is making strides for students to feel comfortable no matter what creed, race, ethnicity or affiliation or identity they bring to the table,” he said. “At the end of the day, you are still a Harvester and we are harvesting together.”
—Elijah Delgado contributed to this report.