If I were to tell my closeted sixteen-year-old self that in three years she would be standing in front of the student government of her university, fighting for representation of her identity, she would think I was crazy. On Oct. 17, I presented a testimonial to Student Government in response to homophobic behavior during a meeting and a proposal to fuse the Women’s Gender and Equity Center with the Queer and Trans Services on campus. While standing with sweaty palms in front of the individuals who collectively represent the University of Nebraska at Omaha and my fellow queer friends, the magnitude of the situation hit me right in the chest.
When entering college, I was eager to find a community where I could gain close friends, life-changing experiences and memories that I could cherish forever. However, that day never came. Already shy with little-to-no friends, I found myself spiraling into a pit of loneliness and isolation. Lunches would go by silently as I would sit in the same corner every day, headphones in ears and homework in front of me. My hand would never raise, and my voice would never be heard during class. The only words I was ever able to mutter were to my family, a few friends and myself. Although my academic life was flourishing, my social life and mental health suffered terribly. I was far from happy.
After barely getting through my first year, I didn’t have much hope for my second. Yes, I had improved my mental health over the summer. Yes, I had gained a small group of friends. But something was missing. There was a void I couldn’t put my finger on. I was still yearning for that sense of community. It wasn’t until my dear friend Emily Kraft invited me to eat lunch in QTS one day that things began to change. Anxious to interact with new people but eager to break the pattern of eating lunch by myself, I said yes. Every so often, I would hear people mention “QTS,” but I was never quite sure what the acronym stood for, so I didn’t feel the need to delve any further into the matter. I simply was accepting an invitation. I didn’t yet know that the second I stepped into the room full of friendly smiling faces and adorned with pride flags that I would be meeting my second family.
After exchanging names and pronouns with the individuals in the room, I was immediately welcomed with open arms.
The Queer and Trans Services agency on campus has become my home away from home. There isn’t an afternoon where I don’t pass through the office and leave with a smile on my face. Through QTS I have grown to truly appreciate being a part of the queer community and the importance of having a LGBTQ+ space on campus, along with how much thought goes into protecting the well-being of queer students. The list of services that the group offers goes on and on—weekly support groups, social outings with other queer individuals, advocacy opportunities, networking, and providing safe spaces where any individual can feel as if they can release any emotional burdens weighing on them. For many, QTS is the only place where they can fully express themselves without the fear of being judged.
“QTS has not only provided me resources on campus, the space itself has opened opportunities to many of the greatest friendships I’ve ever known,” said UNO student and QTS Office Manager Emily Kraft. “The people I’ve met in the QTS office are encouraging academically as well as inspiring for me to feel proud in who I am.”
On a personal note, not only has it been an opportunity for me to feel proud to be queer, it has become a safe space where I feel comfortable and supported during times of distress and anxiety. Throughout the semester, I have faced obstacles that have damaged both my physical and mental health, which has also hurt my academic studies. One particular morning felt as if the world was crumbling at my feet. It was as if my heart was bursting out of my chest and I could do nothing to get a grasp on my whirling mind. The first place I thought of going was the QTS office where I knew my friends would be able to support me. The members of QTS held me, listened to me and made sure that I was mentally stable and safe. They helped me get back on my own two feet. But, I’m not the only one who has been affected by QTS.
“QTS has given me a place to truly be myself, to explore and express my queerness without shame or discomfort and to relate to others with similar or contrasting experiences,” said UNO student and QTS Board Member Jamie Sutula. “Being involved in QTS has also allowed me the opportunity to make friends I can confidently call the most important people in my life.”
Sitting in the back of the room while listening to my friends one-by-one defend themselves to Student Government harkened a feeling of gratefulness, but it also pained me. QTS is not simply just a resource center—it is a second home for many people, including myself. By the end of the night, I was emotionally drained, exhausted and angry. Why must we continue to have conversations about our autonomy as human beings? Why is it still necessary to have to defend my sexuality? Why do I still have to fight for how I love?
I am proud to call myself queer and am even more grateful to have a community such as QTS that loves me for who I am.