By Joe Bailey, Staff Writer–
Spectrum is an ever-expanding student organization which brings UTC’s LGBTQ+ community together.
More than just organizing events, Spectrum is first and foremost about community. Designed as a safe place where queer students can be themselves, it provides respite from the often judgemental eye of the outside world.
Spectrum’s Facilitator Mary Minnick said, “I’ve had a lot of people come up and say, ‘Thanks for having this club because it’s a safe space and a lot of people don’t feel comfortable with who they are or who they’re with.’ So they have this space where they can come and be their true selves, and they’re thankful to have that because a lot of people don’t.”
Co-Facilitator Lilly Roberson adds that there is no single way to explore one’s identity. A person’s process of self discovery is often complex and unique, so Spectrum provides a space where people can compare experiences and backgrounds without forcing anything.
“I think in terms of being scared, that’s why we create such a focus on community, because, even if you aren’t pinpointing who you are exactly, you’re around people who care about you no matter what,” Minnick said.
Spectrum has taken many forms over the semesters. With its members constantly changing, the club’s focus and place at the school has shifted over it’s 20 plus years of operation.
“Spectrum started in the nineties,” Roberson said. “It’s been around a long time. It’s gone through a lot of different phases and iterations because students change so frequently. When Spectrum first started it was a big deal because it registered as a group of queer students who organized around that. It caused a lot of drama. A lot of professors threatened to leave over it. One of our friends, who was a part of Spectrum in the nineties, used to sit in on student government meetings every week to make sure that the club didn’t get voted out.”
2019 has been a year of upward growth in Spectrum’s popularity. With an increased presence at tabling events and more frequent social media activity, the club has more than doubled the attendance of many 2018 meetings.
Of the Spectrum attendees, many said they simply go to the meetings for fun. Ollie Allen said that Spectrum is a place where queer students can go to comfortably make friends.
Another club member, Toby Barefoot, said, “… I was afraid that when I came to college, nobody would understand what I’m going through. I guess finding out that Spectrum is a safe place I can go changed a lot of my views on where I could go and what I could do. I think having people who are also transitioning, and having the same experiences I’m having, is just good because it feels like you’re not alone…”
Spectrum meetings don’t always contain serious discussions about gender and sexuality or rigorous event planning. More often than not, it serves as a hangout where LGBTQ students and their friends can relax, play trivia or talk.
But that is not to say that the organization is without serious issues for which it advocates. Among other topics, Spectrum has spearheaded the school’s push to implement all-gender bathrooms, and has influenced alterations to UTC’s name change policy in an effort to help transitioning students.
Lilly Roberson said that while the name change policy still has a lot of room for improvement, it wouldn’t exist at all without Spectrum.
“A lot of officials are worried that, by publicly giving support to queer students, they are going to lose funding from the state,” Roberson said. “And so we’ve found it incredibly hard to access anything we need to make life safe and accessible for queer students on campus.”
If there was any question about the value of such an organization, one needs only look to the many unique and unexpected places where LGBTQ issues arise.
Mary Minnick said, “One of the most memorable moments for me came when I was tabling, and this guy with confederate flag boots and a literal chain and lock necklace came up and he said, ‘Thank you for doing what you’re doing,’”
Although the club already meets in the Center for Women and Gender Equity every Wednesday at 8 p.m., the start of October’s LGBTQ History Month means Spectrum will have to work harder than ever on organizing and attending events related to the club’s mission and purpose.
Some upcoming events include Pies and Pride on Oct. 9 and Coming Out Cookout on Oct. 10, where students can get free food and tie dye in honor of National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11. Spectrum also plans to attend Chattanooga’s Pride Parade at Ross’s Landing on Oct. 6.
From influencing policy changes to forging friendships, Spectrum has been a positive force for creating supportive communities on campus.