Photo by Lucy Wimmer
By Lucy Wimmer
On February 26, the Homeless at Home exhibit held a reception to commemorate the official opening of the show. The exhibit, which took place in the Carlos Gallery and the drawing studio in the Nabit Art Building, teemed with people from the Franklin County Gay Straight Alliance (GSA), GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network) representatives, and Sewanee community members, as well as students and community members from surrounding areas such as Winchester, Decherd, and Grundy and Coffee Counties.
The Carlos Gallery included multi-media works such as photography, letters, videos, and paintings. Moreover, the drawing studio held four different round-table discussion topics: transgender teens in rural Tennessee, the power of art in politics, emotional first-aid, and connecting needs to resources. Visitors had the option of holding student-led discussions at each of these tables.
“It’s important to have the students lead the round tables because we as adults can stand here all day, and I can tell them ten different things they should do, but I don’t know what they need, and I don’t know unless I ask, and that is was this is intended to do—to let their voices be heard,” said Jennie Turrell, head of the project. These discussions, as well as the information and people involved in the exhibit, provided resources for LGBTQ youth and their allies.
“It’s important that our community knows that these resources exist. When we were going through this saga with the FCHS GSA everyone kept telling us that the gay kids didn’t live in Franklin County, they didn’t live down in the valley. It’s really good to see that they’re getting support from local areas,” Turrell explained.
In 2016, students at Franklin County High School faced backlash within the county and on social media after attempting to start a GSA club, as previously covered in The Purple. The issue drew national attention, with both support for the students and condemnation of the club’s support.
Representatives from GLSEN were involved in the story of the FCHS GSA and talked at the exhibit. “I remember the day the issues with the GSA started, the first day that a piece of paper was torn down and it went on Facebook, because people started posting it on my wall directly,” stated Justin Sweatman-Weaver, head chair of GLSEN Tennessee.“This was a really dynamic group, and all they really needed was support.”
Along with providing resources and support, the exhibit also created a space for LGBTQ students from the area to meet and network with each other.
“I had no idea there were going to be students showing up not from FCHS and not from the university, and that was the most remarkable part of this. The goal of [this event] was to focus on the students and their stories and their voices, and the fact that it drew students who were outside the FCHS community and the Sewanee community, [who] were able to connect with each other— that was the most incredible part,” said Taylor Wilson (C’17), president of Sewanee’s GSA.
“While we’re closing this epic story of what took place here and the fight that these young people took on, we’re seeing people from other rural communities who are here, who were inspired by this and who are ready to take on the fight themselves,” Sweatman-Weaver said.
The number of people at the exhibit exceeded the expectations of those who put it together, and the gallery was so packed it was difficult to walk through without running into other people. The exhibit created a safe, positive space for open conversation and allowed students to see the support in the area.
“When we were planning, we thought we might have enough to get pizza for 30 people, and I don’t even know how many are here, but it just exploded in terms of the number of people who came. It’s a good feeling to know there are this many people here advocating for these kids,” Turrell said.
“The gravity of what these students are doing is eye-opening. I don’t think people realize how important it is. This is the front lines of the LGBTQ movement in the United States of America. They are making historic change right now, and events like this, where you can get all advocates in the same room, is where that change happens,” Wilson said.