Negative stereotypes regarding sexual orientation unfortunately still are commonplace in society today, but one University of Toledo student is working to change that by raising awareness on campus and in the community.Kelly Staufer, 22, of Strongsville, Ohio, witnessed a conflict between Greek organizations and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) students at UT and invited speakers to campus to provide education and awareness in a fun way. For her efforts, Staufer was recognized as the January Jefferson Awards honoree.
Staufer, a senior majoring in human resources and marketing, brought two nationally recognized speakers from EveryoneIsGay.com in October to provide UT Greek organizations, the LGBTQ student body and the Toledo community with a new perspective on the challenges LGBTQ persons endure on and off campus.
“Things won’t get better until people begin talking about the issue,” Staufer said.
Everyone Is Gay is an advice website founded by Kristin Russo and Danielle Owens-Reid in 2010 with an emphasis on LGBTQ youth. More than 700 LGBTQ students, Greek life members, UT alumni, faculty and staff, and community members attended the presentation, which used humor to address serious issues and offer a remedy for change. The speakers talked about bullying, suicide and even common misunderstandings within the LGBTQ community.
“The best way I saw to approach the situation was with a little humor, and Everyone Is Gay offered just that,” Staufer said. “What I enjoyed best about the website and their presentation is that they spoke to their audience not at their audience.”
While attending the Association of Fraternal Leadership & Values Conference, Staufer said she received a book about lesbians in Greek life and the turmoil that those women faced when coming out in their sororities. She said that alone gave her the final push that she needed to advocate for the issue.
“I was living a double life — the life where I was out and free to be whom I wanted to be, and the life of hiding and lying to my family, friends and myself. My sorority sisters were supposed to love and support me no matter what, yet I was afraid to be truthful to them,” she said. “It was time for a change, and I wanted to prove to myself and others that my sorority was different and I wasn’t one of those girls in the book. It was go big or go home time.”
Staufer said she knows the speakers gave voice and hope toward those who are too afraid or scared to be whom they were born to be.
She is a proud member Alpha Chi Omega sorority, Blue Key, UT Panhellenic Council, Order of Omega, and is a student assistant in the Greek Life Office. For the second year in a row, she was emcee of Dance Marathon.
“I am truly honored to have been chosen among all of the other great leaders at UT as the January honoree,” she said. “I could have never imagined the support that I have received from the students, faculty and the Toledo community. Thank you all a million times over.”
Staufer plans to look for work with nonprofit and event planning organizations upon graduation in May.
If you know of an unsung hero who dedicates his or her time to volunteering and community service, be sure to submit a nomination for the Jefferson Awards at utoledo.edu/Jeffersonaward and on Facebook at facebook.com/utjeffersonawards.