YJRD Serves as Safe Space for LGBTQIA+ Students

YJRD members huddle up before a bout to discuss strategy and encourage one another. This is just one way the team fosters community. // Photo courtesy of the Yellow Jacket Roller Derby

The beginning of June marks the start of many things at Tech: students swarming campus for their summer classes, the hot sun shining brightly on Tech Green and brightly colored rainbow flags waving  in the air to celebrate Pride Month.

Tech houses many student organizations on campus that serve  as safe spaces for members of the LGBTQIA+ community, such as the GT Pride Alliance. One of the lesser-known queer spaces for Tech students is the Yellow Jacket Roller Derby (YJRD) team, open to students of all years and backgrounds.     The Technique sat down with Ashwini Tulpule (team name “Crusher”), third-year NEURO and  skater on the team, to learn more  about the organization and how it strives to serve as a queer-friendly community.

Tulpule, like many others on the team,  joined YJRD for its social and physical aspects.

“I liked skating on my own time, and I was looking for a way to be more active. But I’d say I primarily joined because of the community and because I knew going in that it was a queer safe space. I really needed this community since I didn’t really have a strong one, so I wanted to be around that and try that,”  Tulpule said. 

Tulpule explained that, even beyond Tech, roller derby is a welcoming space to members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

“Roller derby, as far as outside of Atlanta, is very queer-friendly. A lot of queer people are drawn to  it because it is gender inclusive. We work to make everyone feel like they belong, not just like they’re accepted, but like they belong.”

When asked about how to create a queer safe space, Tulpule noted that it is important to consider how one treats their members and how interactions within the community make them feel, often doing so by establishing clear social rules and boundaries.

“It comes down to intention and authenticity. A lot of places have the intention that they want to make queer people feel comfortable and respected, but they don’t quite know how to do that. I think a lot of places try to put it on the queer people. But with roller derby, we all have the intention that we need this to be a queer open space in this community. Everyone puts a lot of thought and care into how everyone is treated and how everyone feels,” Tulpule said.

At Tech, the organization works to create an inclusive and accepting environment for all of its members from their very first day.

“Any organization cansay, ‘I accept you, we love queer people, yay!’ but it’s how you implement that in your organization and your culture that makes a difference. So I think, for us in roller derby, queerness is normalized. I showed up to my first day there and they [the team] were like, put your name and pronouns on your arm. It’s very much not ostracized. It’s just accepted as a part of everyone and as a part of the team,” Tulpule said.

Additionally, the team holds several events throughout the year to promote community building and support other LGBTQ organizations. Tulpule particularly enjoys the team exhibition games and educational workshops.

“I really like our exhibition. Basically, we  split the team up and we play against ourselves. So in the fall, it was Halloween-themed, and in the spring, it was ‘blooms versus shrooms.’ It’s great for team building and to get that friendly competition in there. I also like all the workshops we do; we did one with VOICE in the fall and one with the LGBT[QIA+] Resource Center,” she said.

According to their Instagram, the organization’s primary goal is to ensure that everyone, regardless of their sexual and gender identities, has a space where they can connect with like-minded peers and feel comfortable embracing their own identities.

Tulpule concluded that, “Queer people are everywhere.  If you only have one or two spaces, that would not be representative of us at all, and it would feel like we can only exist in these spaces. There’s more to anyone than their identity, and it’s important to have spaces that cherish that.”