Outnumbered by gay males, group of queer women looks to build community

As a freshman, Chelsea Lenhart found comfort in GW’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community at large. There was gender-neutral housing, a resource center for LGBT students and an open-minded campus.

But something was missing: She saw a shortage of prospering student groups specifically for LGBT women.

Now a senior and president of the Association of Queer Women and Allies, Lenhart is looking to build a closer community of queer women, or women who identify as LGBT, on a campus known for its sizable population of gay males.

“It is a great thing to be part of a LGBTQ organization as a whole. But it’s also nice to have your own little group,” Lenhart explained. “It’s almost like if you’re in band, but all the piccolos hang out. We are still part of the overall community, but it’s just nice to talk to people who know exactly what you are going through.”

Allied in Pride, GW’s largest LGBT advocacy group with about 1,000 students on its email listserv, provides similar resources and a familial atmosphere to students. Its 12-person executive board, however, is almost entirely male, with two females in the organization’s highest positions.

AQWA, which had about 30 students attend its first meeting this month, hopes to collaborate more with Allied in Pride this year to create a “unified force” for LGBT students.

“We are still going to be two distinct organizations, but we are going to do a lot more things together so there isn’t this idea that doesn’t permeate through that only gay guys exist or only lesbian women exist. They exist as a whole,” Lenhart said.

Nicholas Gumas, Allied in Pride’s president, reinforced the interest to work together, saying that one of the group’s goals this year is to have more events specifically for queer women and to establish an integrated LGBT front on campus.

“I think this year, with [AQWA’s] new membership, they are looking to expand and partner with us, and I’m really excited to work with them,” Gumas said.

AQWA was not recognized as a formal student organization when Lenhart with a sophomore due to low membership, but existed informally among students.

Making up for its one-year hiatus, AQWA aims to create a bigger presence on campus. Vice-president Emily Schirvar said the group has received an influx of junior and senior students interested in joining.

AQWA organizes events on and off campus, such as mixers with local universities or trips to Sparkle – a queer open-mic night at Busboys and Poets – and movie screenings run by other LGBT organizations in the D.C. area.

“Every single person goes through their own process of self-discovery, coming out, or even staying in, and it was nice for me to have this connection right away,” Lenhart said. “I want to make sure that I can give that to other people.”

A sophomore and second-year member, Caitlyn Collett is looking forward to the new programming. She is also looking forward to the group’s growth.

“I would like it to be as well known on campus as Allied in Pride is, to see our partnership with them be successful and to remain in the positive public eye, while also being a continued supportive community,” Collett said.

This post was updated Sept. 20, 2013 at 2:12 p.m. to reflect the following correction:

Correction appended
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that one of 12 executive board members is female. In fact, two of 12 are. We regret this error.

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