‘Gays on Ice’ fosters togetherness in LGBT community

Nearly 200 students and community members laced up their ice skates at the University’s Ice Arena on Saturday evening for the third annual “Gays on Ice” event. The free ice skating, sponsored by the Illini Union Board and the LGBT Resource Center, provided an opportunity for both the LGBT community and others to socialize.

Katy Weseman, assistant director for the LGBT Resource Center, said the event is the center’s kickoff to the semester.

“This is one of the largest turnouts we see at a single event, so it’s an opportunity for people to build a community, to come together and see that there are a lot of people who support the LGBT community or are members of the LGBT community,” she said. “That can have a big positive impact for people who may feel isolated or like they don’t know very many people who identify as LGBT.”

She said this sense of isolation is a large concern for the community.

“All the publicity and press surrounding depression and bullying and teen suicides … are really indicative of the larger issue of isolation and people feeling like they can’t talk about who they are,” Weseman said. “Visibly seeing a large presence and feeling like a part of a large community can really help people not feel so alone.”

Kyle Zak, president of the registered student organization Pride, said the University’s size can contribute to the sense of isolation, though it still has its benefits.

“This school is so big, which is wonderful because it brings in such a rich diversity of people, but it can be very isolating, especially when you are a queer student,” said Zak, junior in LAS.

Zak said events like “Gays on Ice” remind people who identify as LGBT that there is a large community available and that “it’s not a negative thing to be queer.” He said it is important to have this tight-knit community.

“If we don’t stick up for each other, then no one else will,” he said. “In queer RSOs, in the LGBT Resource Center, in everything that we do, it’s all about solidarity.”

Though Zak said events like “Gays on Ice” show that the University is “queer-affirming,” he said he would like to see more done by the administration. He suggested the expansion of the queer studies minor to a full major and more inclusion of queer issues in the University’s curricula. He said whether students are learning about a country’s history or political science topics, “there’s always a queer story to be told.”

For Hector Rasgado, freshman in LAS, “Gays on Ice” wasn’t his first exposure to the LGBT community, but it did inspire him to be more involved with it in the future.

“We are afraid of things that we don’t know very well because we haven’t had the time to get to know them,” Rasgado said. “(The LGBT community) is a completely different community that I am very interested in getting to understand because, from what I see here, they’re wonderful people to be around.”