Like many leaders, Gabrielle Cooper wants to make the world a better place. Cooper is the president of both PRIDE! Kent and Threads, a new student organization for #LGBTQ people of color to find community. Nearing graduation, Cooper looks toward the future. She plans to help disadvantaged youth, open an #LGBTQ homeless shelter and eventually own an art therapy practice. She shares about her goals and experiences, explains how Threads helps LGBTQ people of color and suggests ways white LGBTQ people can be supportive allies.
Tell us a little background information about yourself?
I’m a fifth-year senior from Columbus, Ohio. My major is Human Development and Family Studies, with a children and youth development concentration. I also have a Fine Arts minor. I have a lot of love for the LGBTQ community. It’s something I’m very passionate about.
What exactly is Threads?
Threads is a relatively new organization. It’s been around for about a year. We are an organization that welcomes LGBTQ people of color at various stages of the #coming out process. Accepting or questioning their sexuality and trying to understand the LGBTQ community.
The goal is to unify the certain group of people and make their stay here at #Kent State as good as possible. Because sometimes it’s hard to find that group of people you fit in with, and being a double minority can be very hard, especially in a college setting. We’re here for people to make friends and try on different hats, because different organizations are for different things. We also want them to learn, not only about themselves, but about the whole community in general. And learn how to become allies to other parts of the community that they don’t identify as, like being an ally to the bi or trans or pan community.
How did Threads start?
It got started in summer of 2015 by faculty here at Kent State. Last spring, I was asked to be president by one of people who had the idea for the organization.
We have meetings the second and fourth Wednesday of every month at 7pm in the Kent Student Multicultural Center. But on the off weeks, we have social gatherings. This Wednesday, we’re doing pastries and pool in the lower level of the Student Center. People can eat pastries at Jasmine’s and play pool and board games down there. These social gatherings are a chance for students to bond instead of sitting somewhere, being talked to. It’s a chance to bond in a setting where they can express themselves, as well as get to know other people.
You mentioned a college setting being especially difficult for LGBTQ people of color, as double minorities. Can you share more about that?
Some people who grew up in areas that were predominantly their race may not be used to going to predominantly white institutions. To ease them into this, Threads is a little safe haven where they can feel comfortable in their queerness and in their race, to be themselves 100 percent.
Because some people in certain spaces may hold back part of themselves because they don’t feel comfortable showing that side of themselves. In certain settings, as a gay woman, I’m not going to say, “Oh my gosh, she’s so sexy!” to someone who’s obviously not supportive of our community.
Threads was created because LGBTQ people of color were complaining that they didn’t really have something for them. There were some complaints and people wanted there to be this organization that encompasses their entire existence and their multiple identities.
Did Threads have a good first year? Any challenges?
There were some challenges. Just getting the word out and letting people know we’re here and this organization exists was a challenge. Retention was also a challenge. One good thing about last year, people learned about different terms in the community, different sexualities. They definitely learned things. That was a very good thing. It was a little rocky at times, but there were plenty of times where it was great. Meetings went well.
How was your experience as an LGBTQ person of color growing up and coming out?
My experience was rare, because for a lot of LGBTQ people of color, their experience is really hard. My mom, my brother and my family were accepting as soon I came out. No issues, no problems at all. I didn’t have any problems at school. I haven’t had any problems here as a queer woman of color.
But once again, that’s rare, because a lot of families of color are very religious or they’re just not as accepting as mine. I am grateful that my mom, my brother and my family were accepting. But here at Kent I found my home in PRIDE. And just hearing different things from different people made me want to be involved with Threads after I was asked.
As I’m sure you know, sometimes LGBTQ people and people of color advocate for their communities, but as individuals, they can’t represent everyone. How do you balance that?
I make sure to say that I don’t speak for everyone. When I do say something, I make sure to let people know that I do not speak for all black people, I do not speak for all women and I do not speak for all of the LGBTQ community.
Being a leader can be difficult at times because people will look to me for all the answers, for everything. I think it’s important for everyone to realize that we’re all human and no one has the answers to everything. But at the end of the day, I do know there are people looking up to me and I want to lead by example. I want to be able to show them that all their dreams are possible and they will get through any struggles they’re having. I’m like a mom friend, you know? I really care about people’s well being and especially their mental health.
What should white LGBTQ people know about how to be better allies to LGBTQ people of color?
It’s okay for us to want to be surrounded by people who have similar experiences. That doesn’t mean we hate anybody. It doesn’t mean we’re excluding anybody. It’s for comfort. Wanting to be in a space with people who have similar experiences as you.
Also, being able to talk openly about the issues going on. It’s great that you’re able to ask me, “What can I do to help?” Wanting to help us feel comfortable in a space like Kent or anywhere.
I think those are two pretty big things. Just asking how we feel about different things. It’s important for me to know that someone else cares about how I feel about what they’re doing or what they’re not doing. I think the whole thing is getting people to care about if we feel comfortable in their presence or not. Asking what they can do to help us feel comfortable.
Recognize your privilege.
What are your goals for your career, your life?
My ultimate goal is to get my Masters in Art Therapy and Counseling at Ursuline College in Cleveland. I want to work with children who have experienced trauma of any kind, in a juvenile detention center, and with disadvantaged youth. Because there’s not always a person out there or in the community that wants to, that solely thinks about bettering their futures. That’s what I want to do.
My brother is gay. We want to open a homeless shelter for LGBTQ youth. So many LGBTQ youth have been kicked out. No matter their age, they’ve been kicked out and left on the street to fend for themselves. That’s what we want to do in Columbus, Ohio.
Then, in my older years I want to own my own art therapy practice. Ultimately, to sum that up, I want to help heal youth and children, teens, even young adults. Help heal them from the tragedies in their lives. Help make them better people, better equipped to survive, with better coping skills.
Anything else you’d like to share?
For Threads, you don’t have to be a person of color or LGBTQ. I understand how it makes people nervous to come into spaces where they may not have anything in common right off the bat. But if someone takes the time to come into these space and wants to learn, then there will definitely be an opportunity to make friends and get something out of the organization, too.