Dr. Aby Parsons, who received her Ph.D. at Emory University in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, was named as the director of the newly opened LGBTQIA Resource Center last month. Parsons brings to the position her experience as a volunteer with the Office of Health Promotion at Emory and her perspective as a native of the UK.
Parsons, whose Ph.D. dissertation was on the subject of the representations of queer identity in the American South through film and literature, warned against making broad generalizations about both the South and the U.K., but acknowledged that there were specific challenges for the LGBT community in the South. Specifically she mentioned that the biggest difference she saw was how “religion infiltrates politics in a way that it does not do to the same extent in the UK.” She discussed both how the cultural relevance of religion could be a challenge and how a major goal of the LGBT movement in the U.S. was to build relationships with faith-based communities.
“I love the South,” Parsons said. “One of the big reasons I really wanted to stay in the South and do this work is because I think there is so much to be done here. I think a lot of people write off the South as being very regressive and very backwards … but what people don’t realize unless [they] live in the South is that there are vibrant communities of queer activists here that are really doing some wonderful things to build bridges between communities to create change–to change laws.”
Having arrived just last week, Parsons says that she is still getting up to speed but is still available as a resource.
“Any time [students or staff] just want to come in and if they want to talk through a particular situation they’re dealing with, I’m very open to listening to those students…. I’m happy to be that point of contact for students who aren’t sure where to go.”
Parson’s short-term goals for the center are “finding out what people want and starting to implement some of those things for them,” developing a strategic plan for the center and revamping Tech’s Safe Space curriculum.
“I’m looking at planning an open house for the fall when students come back so that they can check out the space drop by and meet me and just get a feel for what we’re doing.”
Longer-term, Parsons hopes to use student, faculty and staff input to develop more LGBT programming and provide more resources for LGBT students and staff.
“I want people to use this center and come to our events and not feel like they have to hide part of their identity to feel comfortable and safe [at Tech]. I [want that to be true] whenever they go on campus, whether its a sports team, a greek formal, their dorm, their classroom [or] their student organization. Wherever they go on campus I want them to feel like they are a whole person.”
Despite all of the challenges of building up the office from scratch, Parsons remains excited and motivated to run the LGBTQIA Resource Center.
“I know we have a lot of work to do; I know that some things are going to take a really long time, and there are going to be some things that are more manageable on a [longer] scale, but in the meantime I’m just really looking forward to always making forward progress and being a little relentless, maybe a little annoying, but never giving up.”