EDUCATION

LGBTQ community members say ‘it’s easier to be out’ in Oxford than other Mississippi towns

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Spencer Pleasants dressed as Amnesia Devereux for a photo shoot. Photo by  Lydazja Turner.

Lydazja Turner
Oxford Stories
lturner@go.olemiss.edu

What is LGBTQ Pride?

Bake Lewis said it’s about being proud of who you are and unapologetically showing it to the world.

“LGBTQ Pride is about loving yourself and loving others, and spreading this love through positivity, acceptance, and unconditional support, and that is so beautiful to me,” said Lewis.

For Spencer Pleasants, LGBTQ Pride means celebrating safely with fellow community members and having open fellowship and fun.

“It means trying to get us to a place where I can look at a person outside of my community and say: ‘Hey guess what? I have the same rights as you.’ That’s what was so great about marriage equality. I finally had that right. There’s many more issues to tackle, and I’m hoping for a day when we finally get there.”  

LGBTQ is an acronym that describes the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning community. Here in Oxford, the LGBTQ community holds many events, such as a Pride Week.

Lewis, an Ocean Springs native, is a computer science major with a minor in math and sociology who identifies as a gay male. On campus, he serves as a second year community assistant in Burns Hall.

He is also president of the National Residence Hall Honorary and vice president of CA development in the University of Mississippi CA Association.

Lewis is a clarinetist for the Pride of the South Marching Band and Wind Ensemble. “After I get my bachelor’s, I plan on getting my masters in higher education,” he said. “I want to work in university administration with a focus on authoring policy to make America’s universities more diverse and inclusive, while ensuring the rights and interests of all students are protected.”

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Blake Lewis. Photo by Lydazja Turner.

Lewis came out to his family when he was a sophomore in high school after telling a close friend. It was much harder for him to come out to his family because he was afraid they were going to react badly and kick him out. However, his family was supportive.

Since then, he has been himself unapologetically, and he has grown to be a proud member of the LGBTQ community. Being gay has presented challenges in his life, but he is glad to have his friends and family as a support system.

Compared to Lewis’s hometown, the LGBTQ community in Oxford is more engaging and active, hosting many events throughout the year. His community back home does not.

Even though the LGBTQ community in Oxford has grown over the years, Lewis believes one of the biggest issues with the LGBTQ community in Oxford is the racism that some LGBTQ people in the community have to deal with.

Despite being members of the LGBTQ community, many people still have hate in their heart, and being a LGBTQ person of color in Oxford can be difficult. Each community has its faults.

“I think a lot of the time when people are against the LGBTQ community, they don’t understand that we’re just normal people trying to live our lives like everyone else,” he said. “People often bring up religion as a reason to hate LGBTQ people, and to this, I would say that you can still practice your religion without hating other people. People are also hateful when they don’t understand.”

He challenges people to talk to someone in the LGBTQ community who is willing, and respectfully ask them about their experiences.

Lewis has met some amazing people in Oxford just by being involved in LGBTQ events, and he feels safe and accepted here.

Saltillo native Pleasants is a UM art major who views being part of the LGBTQ community in Oxford in similar ways. Pleasants identifies as bisexual, and his drag name is Amnesia Devereux. When he leaves college, he plans to start owning his own store and produce his own designs on clothing and prints.

Pleasants came out to his family at age 23. He felt relieved afterward, and his family responded well. Since then, he began going on more dates and openly pursued becoming a drag queen.

Once he moved to Oxford, he became involved with the campus student group UM Pride Network and served as president for two years.

Even though he is involved in the LGBTQ community in Oxford, he still finds problems with in the community. “Threats are the worst, the unknown,” he said. “Not knowing if some crazy straight person is planning on murdering, literally murdering you – the real deal issues the (LGBTQ) community faces beyond slurs or name calling.

“Here in Oxford, there lies an open community of great professors and professionals and locals that love and accept myself and others openly. It’s easier to be out here than other places, and I’m thankful for that.”

Oxford also has many support groups, such as Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or PFLAG, which supports the well being of lesbians and gays and their families.

There are also groups such as Lambda, a support group for individuals in the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community who want to discuss personal issues.

The Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement offers support groups for students attending UM, such as the UM Pride Network. The Oxford community ensures that all students have an inclusive environment and experience.

The Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement offers support groups for students attending the University of Mississippi, such as the UM Pride Network. The Oxford community ensures that all students have an inclusive environment and experience.Save

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