Jasmine Edget believes she has found, “the one.” The person she says is her better half. Someone she can depend on, trust and love for a lifetime. Now she thinks she knows for certain, because she and her partner, Shauntiqua Harris, have been in a committed relationship for almost a year and a half. They have become best friends. In the process of learning new things about each other, they have also learned things about themselves.
Here in the Deep South, it’s not common to see two lesbian, college students being open with their sexual orientation and relationship, but thanks to two organizations at Mississippi University for Women, it is now becoming more common and more acceptable to be gay.
Edget is a member of a new organization called Safe Zone, on the campus of MUW. Safe Zone educates students, faculty and staff on the growing LGBTQ community. It strives to give members of that community a safe place and person to turn to when they believe no one else will understand. With the help of people like Edget, who are willing to share their experiences and struggles, Safe Zone brings a personal touch to a rather impersonal topic.
“It’s necessary to make it personal, to see good and bad experiences and break down stereotypes,” said Alicia Mainka, a licensed counselor and founder of Safe Zone at MUW.
“I felt the need to share my story to help others who are going through the same things, because I believe knowledge is power,” said Edget.
Edget’s experience with, “coming out,” hasn’t been easy. She was raised by religious parents who believe in the Bible scriptures word for word.
According to Mainka, the biggest struggle for LGBTQ members in the South is the religious conflict and the negative stigma attached to them.
Edget’s parents think what she is going through is just a phase, but she says she’s 25 and those days of experimenting are practically over. She stands up for herself, and her partner and her beliefs, regardless of her parents’ views.
Her reaction to the phrase, “it’s just a phase,” is the total opposite of what her parents believe.
“My relationship with Harris, is not sexual rather it’s an emotional connection, just like a heterosexual relationship would be.”
She says her relationship with Harris is not problem free, like some would believe. Just because they are in a homosexual relationship doesn’t mean they deal with a different set of problems. She says they deal with communication issues, respect, outside influences affecting their relationships, family problems and more.
The mission of Safe Zone is to eradicate many of the myths that Edget’s parents have come to believe so that people will become more sensitive and understanding toward the unknown world of homosexuality.
Mainka says she hopes that people will take the knowledge that they have received and share it with others and eventually it will help to change the overall perspective of the LGBTQ community.
Another organization that helped to establish Safe Zone on campus is the student- led Gay Straight Alliance.
Dr. Bridget Pieschel, adviser for the group, professor of English and chair of the Department of Language, Literature and Philosophy believes there is no division of human beings.
“GSA is more than a social organization, it’s a service,” said Pieschel.
The students who are members of the group are gay and straight, and they create an environment which supports and accepts the lifestyle of others.
“Being gay is more than sexual orientation, it is beyond religion, and you can’t attack or be judgmental because that is not acting in love,” said Pieschel, “I believe love overcomes bigotry and tolerance overcomes hatred.”
And that is exactly what Edget and her partner, Harris, believe.
“You can’t change people,” Harris said. “They don’t have to accept it, just respect it.”
When it comes to how the South views the growing LGBTQ community, Pieschel said the best way to change is through conversation, and little by little it won’t seem as unusual.
As for Edget and Harris, they hope these conversations change people’s mind about them.
Edget and Harris are looking toward a happier future with parents who have accepted who they are, and in the eyes of Edget, wedding bells.