Partial Transcript: Megan Lee Myklegard: Hello this is Megan Myklegard it's July 24th, 2015 we are
at 310 Webb Street. I'm here with Gwen. Gwen would you like to introduce
yourself with the date of birth and place of birth?
Gwen Coleman: Okay, I'm Gwen Coleman. I was born in Nankudo, Namibia on December
Partial Transcript: MYKLEGARD: When were you first introduced to the LGBT community?
COLEMAN: Well I always was very accepting and open to it, like I never had a
time period where I was like "Oh, that's weird", and so I met my best
guy friend in sixth grade and he came out in seventh grade and so like that was
my first time knowing someone who was gay and I was just like "That's cool."
Keywords: friends; middle school
Partial Transcript: MYKLEGARD: [laughs] Alright, how would you describe your clique in high school?
COLEMAN: I had a very diverse group of people that I hung out with. So my first
closest friends were all Philipino, [laughs] so I participated in a lot of
Philipino traditions and lived amongst them and all their parents were
pretty religious too, but we all kind of had the same mindset.
Keywords: friends; high school; mindset
Partial Transcript: MYKLEGARD: When you came to Virginia Tech did you seek out an LGBT community?
COLEMAN: Not at first because I didn't, since I didn't know what I was, I
thought for a second that I would be judged for not knowing. Like I thought to
join you had to be sure, and since I wasn't completely sure, I wasn't
Keywords: community; Tech
Partial Transcript: MYKLEGARD: Alright, would you have any suggestions about how you would like to
see Virginia Tech grow in terms of acceptance and just being in the LGBT community?
COLEMAN: I think it first starts with how we talk about it. Like I said even
when I started working for the people who teach the workshops they talked in a
very heteronormative manner and so people think like that all the time.
Keywords: conversations; history
TRANSCRIPT: GWEN COLEMAN
Date of Interview: July 24th, 2015 Interviewer: Megan Lee Myklegard Place ofInterview: 310 Webb Street, Blacksburg, Virginia Length: 23:53 Transcribers: Megan Lee Myklegard
Megan Lee Myklegard: Hello this is Megan Myklegard it's July 24th, 2015 we areat 310 Webb Street. I'm here with Gwen. Gwen would you like to introduce yourself with the date of birth and place of birth?
Gwen Coleman: Okay, I'm Gwen Coleman. I was born in Nankudo, Namibia on December2nd, 1992.
MYKLEGARD: Awesome. Alright so can you tell me a little bit about your familyand how you were raised up until you got into college?
COLEMAN: Okay, um so the first six years of my life I lived in Namibia and SouthAfrica for a few years each. My dad was in the peace corps so that's why he was in Africa in the first place— in Namibia in the first place— and that's where he met my mother. They had me first, I'm the oldest, and then my younger sister and he was supposed to be there for two years, but he ended up staying for eight illegally because he started a family. Eventually the US wanted him to come back because they were sponsoring him the whole time he was over there. So he brought my mother, my sister, and me back to the US and we moved to New Jersey. 1:00And then a few years later we had my youngest sister [she] was born in New Jersey. So, we had a pretty— I had a pretty basic childhood it was pretty happy. I played outside a lot, I like to collect bugs and roll around in the mud. I was a pretty rambunctious child so I was always getting in trouble. So I was the problem child, but it was fun I enjoyed it. My parents like it too, they liked that they had someone they call interesting. Let's see, my mother is very deeply connected to her roots so I had a very cultured childhood as well. It flipped back and forth between an American childhood, like typical things an American child would play with like Play Dough and Legos and stuff like that, but also very Namibian and Zambian where I would 2:00eat a lot of ethnic foods and my mother would teach me a lot of terms that sometimes I couldn't remember the English variations of them so I kind of had like a weird language barrier for awhile, but I got over it. I ended up really liking it and it became something that I could teach a lot of people about. So it was interesting, my mother is deeply religious, she's a Jehovah's Witness, and she's foreign. She was always very deeply connected to her religion, but my dad is basically a Buddhist so I had a very like wide ranging history of religion. I always kind of— my mom was very set on teaching us the bible. So she like gave us children's books to read, but as I got older I questioned it by myself and so I just kind of— I don't really have a set thing I believe in yet. I believe in something, but it's like still kinda being figured out. So she was pretty big on that all through my life, and just like remembering to stay humble and always live a quiet peaceful and good life. My dad— 3:00for different reasons— he just like loves the world. Um but that's basically it, they just kind of instilled, or did their best to instill good values and treating everyone with respect and being close to family and with friends. So me and my sisters, we're very close to each other if not other people, but we all try to treat everyone with respect and just like remember to keep in mind that everyone has their own kind of struggles. But, that was my basic upbringing.
MYKLEGARD: When were you first introduced to the LGBT community?
COLEMAN: Well I always was very accepting and open to it, like I never had atime period where I was like "Oh, that's weird", and so I met my best guy friend in sixth grade and he came out in seventh grade and so like that was my first time knowing someone who was gay and I was just like "That's cool." And that's just kind of how I lived with it. It never was anything for me to 4:00question, I just kind of accepted it right away.
MYKLEGARD: When, how do you identify yourself?
MYKLEGARD: When did you first realize you were bisexual?
COLEMAN: Um, [pauses] I don't know I kind of took a little while. I always Iguess kind of found girls attractive, but never like thought about it, cause you know a lot of girls are like "Oh, she's cute!" and it's like never anything like "Oh, you look so cute today." And it was never anything that I actually thought about. But then my first girlfriend— I first had a really close friendship with her and then it started changing and I was initially resistant to it and then, then I stopped being resistant to it like really quickly because I was like "Oh, this is probably just normal." And so I thought I was just curious for awhile, but then it didn't go away and I kind of like let myself think about it. I like let myself think about it, I don't know how else to describe that. 5:00
COLEMAN: But I realized that it wasn't just her I kinda found a lot of otherpeople attractive too, but I didn't actually apply the term to myself until I got to college. Like my sophomore year is when I actually like fully realized it, but I started thinking about it my senior year of high school.
MYKLEGARD: Did you talk to your parents about it?
COLEMAN: No, because my mom is like super religious and she was always reallyoutspoken against it. So one day, one day in my freshmen year I got like really fed up with it and I called my mom and I came out to her and I told her that I was dating her and she like took it very badly and she like threw the bible at me and she still kinda does throw the bible at me all the time and like tells me it's wrong and she won't let me tell my dad until I graduate college cause essentially she thinks it's a phase and that college, like graduating college, will be the end of the phase, I don't know. So she wants me to wait until I graduate college to tell my dad, which I don't really mind. I feel like he kind of knows anyway, but I'm still very respectful to my parents like I still think I should really respect my parents. So I respect her wishes even though I know 6:00she's very resistant because I, I feel like eventually she'll come around. But there'll probably be a time period where she won't talk to me, like for a long time and I know it's probably going to happen. And my dad will probably be really mad too, but my dad I think will come around first and then he'll bring my mom around eventually. But, so I try to bring it up to my mom every once and awhile cause I kind of have to like remind her every once and awhile of it and she get's very resistant, she get's really mad. I know she's upset and that's why she's reacting with anger, because she was raised in such a strict religion. So I bring it up, but most of the time she's in denial. So much denial where she reverts herself to thinking I'm like best friends with people. She's like "Oh, you're just friends." And I'm like, it's weird for awhile. [laughs] and so I remind her again. But it's okay I, it's okay I don't mind not sharing with my parents. We've always kind of had 7:00that relationship with our personal lives are very private about their personal lives, so I'm kind of private about it too. So it doesn't bother me it's just that I have to constantly like out myself, but it's something I'll probably do my whole life anyway.
MYKLEGARD: Did you feel like you were actively hiding relationships when youstill lived with them?
COLEMAN: Um, yeah. Even if they were like straight, well straightrelationships I would still hide them from my parents just because their very private people and my mom used to always, well for a lot of African people, they don't believe in boyfriends. They're like there are no boyfriends you just get married, so dating to them is very taboo. In American culture it's so common for people to have boyfriends, but to them it's like, you shouldn't be so comfortable with dating and kissing so many people, you should wait till you really, really like someone and then get married. So I always hid relationships from them, but they always kind of knew, but I just didn't explicitly say it. So it's kind of natural. 8:00
MYKLEGARD: How was growing up in a religious and I suppose, conservativehousehold did that make you feel any certain way when you were growing up?
COLEMAN: No, I was always very much my own person. Kind of like I said I was atrouble maker, I meant that as in I always had some type of disagreement with my parents about something. So they always knew I was very different even if it was— like, I remember my first big scuff with my parents was the fact that I didn't want to wear a skirt. I like didn't want to wear dresses. And my mom put this rule that I had to wear— there are five days in the school week— I had to wear dresses a majority of the day. So I had to wear a dress or skirt three days out of the week and I was allowed to wear pants two times a week. And I remember being like— literally I was like seven and I was like "This is stupid" and my mom's like "You don't say the word stupid." [laughs]
COLEMAN: And I'm like "This is dumb, I just want to wear pants!" Because I usedto always to hang upside down on the bars, and I would always have my panties out so I was just always, I always had my own mindset. I was always very progressive, 9:00I guess you might say, and my parents— well mainly my mom— my dad was just kind of like "This girl is crazy just let her do what she needs to do." But, I always kind of went against my mom anyway so like the fact that I had different views about pretty much everything doesn't, it was always just like a part of life like 'Oh, they don't agree." [laughs]
MYKLEGARD: [laughs] Alright, how would you describe your clique in high school?
COLEMAN: I had a very diverse group of people that I hung out with. So my firstclosest friends were all Philipino, [laughs] so I participated in a lot of Philipino traditions and lived amongst them and all their parents were pretty religious too, but we all kind of had the same mindset. Where we'd all kind of butted heads with our parents so we all like agreed in that sense. Then I just had, they were all of just different backgrounds and they were all 10:00really understanding, but it was an understanding that didn't need to be said. Which was weird. So, like I remember when I came back after my freshmen year of college cause I didn't come out to my friends in high school, cause I didn't know what they would think, so I came back my freshmen year of college and I started coming out to them and they were all like "Oh yeah we knew, like duh." And then some of them were like "Oh yeah, I'm curious too!" And I ended up finding out that like three of my friends all had like girlfriends in the past that they just hid. So it was like [laugh] everyone was like "Oh yeah, me too!' so like, I think it was like an unspoken thing that all brought us together that eventually we were all kind of comfortable saying. So it was cool.
MYKLEGARD: Um, so why exactly didn't you tell them when you were in high school?
COLEMAN: I just didn't know how they would react, and partially because I waskind of figuring it out for myself. So, like I said I'm pretty private so I didn't want to like talk about it for awhile, and then I was like,"This is 11:00stupid like, I'm just gonna say it." So I told them and then it was like totally fine they were like "You're stupid for not telling us earlier, but it wasn't a problem for long at all.'
MYKLEGARD: When you came to Virginia Tech did you seek out an LGBT community?
COLEMAN: Not at first because I didn't, since I didn't know what I was, Ithought for a second that I would be judged for not knowing. Like I thought to join you had to be sure, and since I wasn't completely sure, I wasn't comfortable joining.
MYKLEGARD: Why did you decide to come to Tech?
COLEMAN: Honestly, trees.
COLEMAN: It's a weird story, but I was set on going to North Eastern and thenone day I was like "I really want to go to an area that's really like grassy and trees and there's not like big cities around." Cause I wanted to like focus on myself. I wanted to go to a school where you could like build relationship as opposed to like, always being out in a city. And like I just remember thinking 12:00trees, and Virginia Tech had a drillfield and I wanted to be in nature with cows so I came to Tech. [laughs] That's my reason. [laughs]
MYKLEGARD: [laughs] That's a really great reason.
COLEMAN: [laughs] People think it's weird when I say it; they're like "trees?"[laughs] That's my reason.
MYKLEGARD: [laughs] That's hilarious. Okay so when were you first introduced tothe LGBT community while you were at Tech?
COLEMAN: Oh man, I don't even know. I think I went to like Gobblerfest and I sawthey're table and I picked up some information just so that I could like see what the club was about; I didn't join but I kept the information and then I joined the Facebook group just to see like what they were saying and then I got involved with like a bunch of clubs in squires. So I was always kind of intermingled with people in that— well back then it was called LGBTA, now it's Hokie Pride whatever. And then I just started meeting some of them and a couple of them were in my class and so I was like "Hey, you look familiar" and then I just became friends with some of them and then they— I went to a couple 13:00of their meetings and just it kind of, like formed organically. I never sought it out, it just kind of happened with the connections I made through other clubs.
MYKLEGARD: Are you actively involved in any LGBT clubs right now?
COLEMAN: No, I have way too many previous commitments, but I do keep upwith it in the clubs I've worked with we've worked conjoined, like in conjunction with Hokie Pride. So like I work with them and I know them all very well and I've done a couple workshops with them like I teach workshops and I've taught them to them. So I'm involved with them, but not actively like a member that goes to their weekly meetings, if that makes sense.
MYKLEGARD: What all are you involved in right now?
COLEMAN: Okay, should I say like I'm an Orientation Leader and stuff?
COLEMAN: Okay, well I'm an Orientation Leader, it actually lasts through the14:00year so I guess that counts. I'm a member of the Black Student Alliance, I'm in Epsilon Sigma Alpha which is a service fraternity— I can't even remember everything I'm involved in. I'll probably have a job at the Women's center, I'll be working there. Oh and then I teach workshops for the Health Education Awareness Team, so that's the main ones that take up a lot of time. [laughs]
MYKLEGARD: How important would you say LGBT activism is to you and how big of apart is it in your life?
COLEMAN: Since I'm very interested in like— since I teach so many workshops andI'm involved in talking to a lot of students, I bring it up a lot I think. More than I notice that I do. So, it's not something that I actively have to remember as being important, it's just something that I kind of live. So it's very natural for me to always talk about it try to teach people about it to try and lessen the fears people have fears about it, talk about the stigmas of it. I 15:00use, in my workshops I'm very careful to use gender neutral language or inclusive language so now it just comes out like naturally like I don't even have to think about it. So I think people automatically know my stand on it, and so it's not difficult for me to talk about it. So it's pretty important I think, now I kind of live it so I just I try to teach everyone about it if I can. And around that is.
MYKLEGARD: What exactly are the workshops that you teach?
COLEMAN: I teach— hm okay, so for Health Education Awareness Team I teach—there's workshops involving sleep, safer sex, contraception, mental health, body positivity, nutrition, and I think that those are the main ones; oh and like skin health. So, some of them are easier obviously to talk about issues than others. Like safer sex and contraception, I have to— when I first joined initially they used very heteronormative language and so I don't think they've 16:00ever had a member that was like very active in trying to make things inclusive. So I brought it up to them and so they've been working on teaching the people to start using like partner instead of girlfriend or boyfriend and kind of like [coughs] keeping that present; so I kind of helped to change that which was good. But its easier to talk about like any kind of issues in like the safer sex and contraception workshops, but I even fit it in with like sleep, I fit it in with basically every workshop I can. Just because I never know who's in the audience, and so and I don't want people to go out and assume that like we're teaching only a certain population of people.
MYKLEGARD: Have you had any negative experiences at Tech in terms of being apart of the LGBT community?
COLEMAN: No, I've had people who were curious. Which is always a goodexperience, but some people might consider it negative if they're curious for the wrong reasons. Which I don't know how to explain that, but sometimes people 17:00are curious and then they kind of twist it in a way that ends up being negative. I've only had people that ask genuine questions, so never a bad experience here.
MYKLEGARD: How would you compare Tech and Blacksburg with other places thatyou've lived?
COLEMAN: Tech is, hmm, so Tech as a college is a great— it more inclusive andopen to the conversations, but I think it's because of the people who are involved in it are open, so of course the conversations are gonna be more inclusive and productive. But Blacksburg— I haven't had much interactions with like Blacksburg in regards to it. Back home, it's not, it's not really talked about. Not that people aren't accepting or can't talk about it, but it's not talked about. So I didn't want to tell my friends because we'd never really talked about it, and even though they went through the same things it never came 18:00up until we all went to college and talked about it with other people. So my town it's just kind of ignored, but here it's talked about.
MYKLEGARD: Do you feel [clears throat] comfortable in situations where if you'rein a relationship, do you feel comfortable being affectionate if you're out like around town in Blacksburg or just walking around campus?
COLEMAN: I do, yeah. That's, I'm kind of just like "Whatever." Like if I'm gonnaget a look, I'm gonna get a look so I'll probably get a look cause I'm brown even. [laughs] So like—
COLEMAN: So like, I kind of just do what I want. I mean if the area— I haven'tbeen in an area that feels unsafe but I know that some people have said that there's areas that they feel unsafe, hasn't happened to me but I don't know how I would react in that situation. But most of the time I'm comfortable.
MYKLEGARD: Um, are you, do you think that you're gonna make activism a part ofyour life once you graduate?
COLEMAN: Yeah, I wanna do something probably in regards to teaching or involving19:00students or communities and so I wanna keep spreading the message and just keeping it in people's minds. Cause it's relevant and it's important, so you kind of don't wanna have like a huge social movement, it bothers me when they're huge social movements for like two months, and then they die. So I don't want to be responsible for it dying.
MYKLEGARD: Do you have any mentors, or do you know of any professors or facultywho are related to the LGBT community at Tech?
COLEMAN: No, not like explicitly. I know, I mean once I talk to them theyall identify as allies and they all wanna like learn about it more and help in anyway that they can. But initially, my first initial thoughts are no. Which is okay, like I'm glad I can teach them and eventually bring them around to it. But I haven't met ones that are actively involved at first meeting.
MYKLEGARD: [laughs] Alright so similar to the high school question, how would20:00you describe your clique at Virginia Tech?
COLEMAN: Oh super wide ranging. It's very diverse. But I'm glad that I have likemore friends who identify in the LGBT community because then it just becomes easier to create those kind of conversations with them and I get to get their points of views and their experiences, but even my friends who don't identify they're all super comfortable with it. So, it's just fun to get to talk about them all. And some of them are even really religious and involved, I don't like to be like anti-religious which I know some people end up being that way because of their bad experiences. I don't use my mom as kind of a reason to start hating religion. So I don't shrink away from it, so I know colored people who are like very religious, just like my mother, and they're still able to have those conversations with me and explain they're points of view so I even have a couple of them in my circle. So that's fun too.
MYKLEGARD: Alright, would you have any suggestions about how you would like to21:00see Virginia Tech grow in terms of acceptance and just being in the LGBT community?
COLEMAN: I think it first starts with how we talk about it. Like I said evenwhen I started working for the people who teach the workshops they talked in a very heteronormative manner and so people think like that all the time. So I think if you start talking in a way that is inclusive that's like one way to start it, people will start to ask questions from that and then you can start those conversations, but I think it's hard to automatically hop into conversations without having your language prep people for it beforehand. So I think if there's an understanding that you have to talk in a way that can include a wide range of people and how they identify, it'll be easier to start talking about acceptance and how to fit those people into spaces where they 22:00don't feel marginalized.
MYKLEGARD: Awesome, alright. This is kind of like a broad and weird question soyou can take it however you want, is there anything that you would like future historians to know at Virginia Tech?
COLEMAN: Hm [pauses] I think I would like future historians to know that atfirst glance Virginia Tech is a very, it looks like a place where change could not happen. It started as like a military academy, all male, then like they struggled to add females then they struggled to add minority students and it still mainly male and its still very military based, and so it seems like a place where change and these kinds of things can not happen but I'd want them to know that there are people that are trying very, very hard to make it happen and it's happening slowly. So I'd like them to, when the look at Tech, see it's growth even though it may take awhile, it's happening. 23:00
MYKLEGARD: Have you seen any changes in your time at Tech?
COLEMAN: Yeah, just the people who teach the workshops is my main change, thatwas a huge change because they're teaching peers and they're going out and they're interacting with people and so being an active part in how they train people was a huge change and so I'm really happy that they were able to do that because it helps, like I said. Just changing your language helps people feel like more included.
MYKLEGARD: Awesome. Alright so are there any questions that you thought I mightask but I haven't yet?
COLEMAN: No, no.
MYKLEGARD: Yeah, no?
MYKLEGARD: Alright well, that's all the questions I have so is there anythingelse you'd like to add before I stop the recording?
COLEMAN: This was fun. [laughs]
MYKLEGARD: [laughs] Awesome. That's it?
MYKLEGARD: Thank you very much!24:00