Visible Voices is a program created as a way to give a face and voice to LGBTQ-identifying people on Colorado Statue University’s campus.
“It really developed as a way to recognize the experiences and validate the stories of students living LGBTQ identities and to recognize the importance of story-sharing as a point of connection, a point of humanity and a point of education,” said Emily Ambrose, assistant director of the GLBTQ2A Resource Center.
According to Ambrose, Visible Voices started small and gained momentum as the years went on. It has become a program appreciated by different entities on and off campus. Different classes invite them in to speak to students, student organizations like Alternative Break invited them to present and even off-campus entities like high schools, middle schools and religious organizations have utilized their services.
Through Visible Voices, a volunteer panel of LGBTQ-identifying people are requested by groups to speak about their experiences. The panel breaks up the presentation into five parts — personal introductions, an introduction to the Resource Center, the volunteers’ coming-out stories, an open question-and-answer session and an evaluation at the end.
Immediately following the panel, feedback is sent to whoever requested the service and to the volunteers. The feedback helps whoever requested the panel to know what was learned according to the audience evaluation.
Jayson Usher is one of many volunteers for Visible Voices and has experienced the empowerment the program provides. A senior sociology major and co-coordinator of the volunteers, Usher said he has loved the opportunity to educate people.
“I like being able to express my own story, and being able to show people because of how I look — shaggy beard, dude-like dude — that I can still identify as queer in any way,” said Usher. “And being able to use that experience and being able to tell my story in a way that challenges people’s already preconceptions of heteronormativity and cis-normativity.”
Usher said people outside of the LGBTQ community can seem oppressive, but this can come from being unaware of the different identities that exist.
“They just don’t know — they’ve never been exposed to people like us, they’ve never heard anybody’s story like this,” Usher said.
With 43 active volunteers, Ambrose says that the program looks forward to continuing to grow by possibly conducting more than their current 20-40 panels a semester, as well as figuring out how they can conduct this work with an intersectional and interweaving approach to recognizing the many identities a person holds.
“I like being able to be that Visible Voice and say that this is what we look like — we look like everybody else, we’re just like everybody else and our stories and our identities, while still challenging — they are valid,” Usher said.
Panel and volunteer requests can be made on the Visible Voices site.
Collegian Reporter Tatiana Talesnick-Parafiniuk can be reached online at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @tatianasophiapt.