As Is explores LGBT identity

By April DeJarlais

Macalester was among 2007 Advocate College Guide’s “100 Best Campuses for LGBT [Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender] Students”, but the school is not content to just kick back and admire the ranking.Started up last spring, the As Is program takes another step toward improving the college’s environment for LGBT students. Program founders Dean of Students Jim Hoppe, Lilly Program Associate Eily Marlow ’97 and Mental Health Counselor Don DeBoer envisioned a support group for LGBT students that would also help to handle their sexuality in areas of their lives other than Macalester.

Before coming to Macalester in 2004, Hoppe started a program similar to As Is at the University of Puget Sound. The group became an important part of the LGBT community there, and the founders hope it will have the same effect at Macalester.

The group differentiates itself from the LGBT activism group Queer Union, and is more helpful to those who are still exploring their sexuality and wondering how to come out to their parents, much less wanting to wave a banner in a parade.

“Coming out is disorienting even if you are in a safe place,” Marlow said.

Advertising for As Is this semester began in February and meetings have been small gatherings of six or seven students so far, Marlow said. Students can share personal stories or listen to others’ coming out experiences, and are welcome to come once or be a regular attendee.

Because of Macalester’s reputation for being LGBT-friendly, “many people think As Is is unnecessary,” Sustainability Associate and As Is mentor Justin Lee ’08 said. “[Coming out] can be so difficult, and not something you can do in your daily life.”

Lee was involved with As Is last year, which he credits as being “hugely helpful” for him. He is now the youngest of four group mentors, who work on advertising, offer their own experiences to students and are available to meet with outside of meetings.

The group welcomes students with established sexualities along with those who are still exploring. Questioning students can learn how being LGBT works with jobs or internships, friends and family.

Marlow said she does not doubt that students have those types of conversations outside of group settings, but sees As Is as providing a regular group to which students can always turn. As someone who came out during her time at Macalester, Marlow wishes she had had the connections that As Is can provide to students.

“It’s a great opportunity to have an extended conversation within a community,” she said.

The group is considering opening up to other ACTC schools and to students that may not have the support that Macalester provides, and hopes to grow in numbers this year.

“[As Is] is for students who need a place to tell their story,” Marlow said.