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LGBT Allies watch Glee

Allies — the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender interest and advocacy group for straight students — is making a comeback at Penn.

The group was disbanded last year due to a decline in membership. This fall, the organization has witnessed a revival following a series of suicides involving LGBT students, including Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi.

College sophomore Jake Tolan believes the Allies community at Penn has an important role to play despite rankings such as the one released by Newsweek, which identified Penn as the most gay-friendly college in the United States.

“At Penn, we have the very awkward problem of being so LGBT friendly that many allies feel like they don’t need to do anything else,” Tolan wrote in an e-mail. “The reality though is that there are still many students here at Penn who are dealing with issues of sexuality.”

The support of allies can send “a great sense of validity” to LGBT people in their fight for rights, according to Wharton and Engineering junior and Lambda Alliance Chairman Tyler Ernst.

“It sends a powerful message because people don’t expect straight people to get involved in LGBT activism,” he said.

Many of the students involved in Allies have a personal connection to the LGBT cause. College sophomore Matthew Valdespino said he joined his high school Gay-Straight Alliance because his brother is gay.

College freshman Micah Kaats identifies himself as an “automatic ally.” He said the fact that his dad is gay prompted him to take on an activist role in the LGBT community.

He recalls being surprised by his middle-school peers when they used phrases such as “that’s so gay” and “faggot.”

“I realized how society viewed LGBT people and wanted to do something about it,” he said.

Ernst added that Allies has experienced difficulty in engaging members. The group initially was founded in response to the murder of Matthew Shepard in 1998 but witnessed a decline in membership in recent years.

“Unless there is something tangible to fight against, straight people tend to forget there is a pressing need for allies,” he said.

Ernst hopes that the new group will adopt a more “grassroots” approach in order to retain its members. Allies currently organizes weekly screenings of Glee —a popular musical comedy television series that focuses on a high school glee club.

According to College sophomore Adena Wayne, the club chose to screen Glee because it features a prominent gay character, Kurt.

“Throughout the show, there is a lot of mention about his homosexuality,” she said. “It shows great ally relationships.”

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