What's it like to be a GLBT college student? For 19-year-old Bianca Palmisano, an undergraduate at American University in Washington DC, it means pursuing a major in International Studies, planning a semester abroad, and sharing her coming out story with others as part of her school's "Rainbow Speakers Bureau."
And in her spare time? Well, it also means blogging about everything from her classes, to her girlfriend, to her take on human sexuality.
Here Bianca answered a few questions for me about her experiences.
Are you involved with the gay community on your campus?
I am very much involved with the LGBT community at American. We have two main spheres of activity- one is the student-led group, Queers and Allies, and the other is the LGBT Resource Center, which is staffed by a full-time director and program director. I do more with the Resource Center, including a program called the Rainbow Speakers Bureau. This reaches out to college classes and community groups to provide answers to common questions about the LGBT community. It also offers a face to the stories and struggles that the community faces.
This will be my second year as a speaker for the program. When I present, I usually give a 5 minute story about my coming out process or defining my identity (which has evolved a lot since I came out in 10th grade). Then I field questions from students and help my fellow panelists explain the differences between concepts like gender identity, biological sex, and sexual orientation. It's really rewarding.
Have you always been an activist or is this something you only pursued in college?
I got involved with activism in high school through my school's Gay-Straight Alliance. It was fairly defunct by the time I got to high school, but it had been very well established by previous graduating classes, and remained a safe haven for discussion and belonging in the school.
However, what really got me involved in LGBT community engagement was an experience I had when participating in Transgender Day of Remembrance, the "sister campaign" to Day of Silence, which commemorates all the people who have been victims of trans- related hate crimes. During this day, I had several students ask me what I was protesting, and my explanation usually wrought more questions: "Transgender? That's like a hermaphrodite, right?" etc. I feel that there are so many people out there who aren't intolerant, just under-informed, so I made it my goal to engage in as much dialogue as possible and be open to everyone's questions.
Is there anything else you'd like people to know about you?
People might be surprised to know that I'm a Taoist. My mother raised me under the Eastern philosophical/religious principles of the Tao, which Taoists believe is a life force that is present in everyone and everything and guides the natural flow of the universe.