Give them Hope: A Narrative Written by M.P. Armstrong
Meet Moira Armstrong. Moira is a student at Kent State University pursuing a double major in English and History, with minors in Italian Studies, Ancient Medieval Renaissance Studies, and LGBTQ Studies. Moira shares their story of the time they have spent at Kent State thus far and the importance of remaining hopeful.
The narrative below was written by Moira Armstrong. If you are a student looking for more information about LGBTQ Studies, Women's Studies, or would like to talk to a Moira or another student in this program, please contact Dr. Molly Merryman (firstname.lastname@example.org), Director of the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality and she will connect you.
Give them Hope: A Narrative Written by M.P. Armstrong
When I started my college search, I had no idea what I wanted. Most of my classmates envisioned themselves at small or large schools, near or far from home, with a certain unique academic program or aspect of student life. Dozens of my friends had stories of stepping onto campuses and just knowing that this was where they were meant to spend the next four years. But twenty tours and eighteen applications later, I still felt lost.
My only strict parameter came from my identity as an LGBTQ student. My college search had brought me into a wide range of environments; some places I toured were extremely accepting, but one university wanted me to test-run their new diversity and inclusion policies, and another's students actually warned me not to attend there. I knew I needed an environment where I would be comfortable, and Kent State University provided that--and much, much more.
Shortly after I arrived on campus, I learned about a study abroad program in the United Kingdom over summer intersession the next year. It was called Researching Queer Britain, and as a history major and aspiring museum professional and academic, it seemed like it had been tailor-made for me. The trip started in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where we would attend the queer history conference called Outing the Past and gather oral histories from queer people for the collection of the Queer Britain museum and the advocacy group Cara-Friend. Then, we would head for London to connect with the museum and the associated queer history master's program at Goldsmiths University.
I knew I needed to go, so I set up a meeting with Molly Merryman, the faculty member leading the trip, After learning about my goals, she not only made sure that I joined the trip but also set up a practicum for the semester before the trip. For the past few months, I've been working under her to research the complicated history of queer rights and struggles in Northern Ireland influenced by the Catholic-Protestant civil conflict known as the Troubles. I've also had the chance to present about our trip to donors at the Education Abroad Symposium and to the community at Kent's Rainbow Squirrel Festival, as well as volunteer for Queer Britain transcribing previously collected oral histories.
Additionally, through my position as an intern in the College of Arts and Sciences Office of International Programs and Education Abroad, I've been working to develop a program for other LGBTQ+ students who plan to travel overseas. I learned from my experience in the Freshmen in Florence program that there are additional challenges for LGBTQ+ individuals in foreign countries, from how to navigate the TSA as a trans person to figuring out if and how to come out to locals, and I wanted to provide information and resources to anyone who might be struggling with those factors as they make decisions about study abroad.
Since the university moved online, I've really missed these opportunities to engage. Virtual interactions just aren't the same. But I have a lot to look forward to. The Queer Britain trip and the LGBTQ+ study abroad program I was planning have been postponed, not canceled. As museums move their content online, there's never been a better time to research the structure of electronic exhibits, which I hope to do through both the practicum and a remote version of the Summer Undergraduate Research Programs. And with such an uncertain future, it's been comforting to focus on the victories of the past. Transcribing Queer Britain oral histories has been one of the things keeping me grounded in this turbulent time.
Molly also inspired me to declare the LGBTQ+ Studies minor. So far, I've taken the introductory class for the minor, and I'm currently in an LGBTQ+ literature course, which is perfect for me as an English major. When we return to campus, I'm looking forward to taking queer theory--my previous classes have covered the basics, and I'm excited to dive deeper--as well as a new class called Fighting Back: Queer Voices and Activism for Pandemic Times. I've been noticing parallels between COVID-19 and AIDS since the crisis began and I'm looking forward to exploring how people have overcome the inequalities and other struggles of pandemic situations throughout history.
In that vein, I’ve recently reread one of my favorite memoirs--When We Rise: My Life in the Movement by Cleve Jones, who created the AIDS memorial quilt. It’s an excellent book that, among many other landmark moments and people in queer history, talks about Harvey Milk, who was one of the first openly gay politicians in America. One of Milk’s mottos was “you gotta give them hope.” He meant it in a political sense, of course, but I’ve found that sentiment to be relevant under the coronavirus. That’s how we’ll get through this.
We have to give each other hope.