By Mercy Austin and Alaska Woods, staff writers

**Content warning for discussions of suicide**

Susan Peiffer (they/she) works as the programs manager at Inside Out Youth Services, a local non-profit for LGBTQIA2+ youth.  They are responsible for everything that happens to youth who visit the organization’s drop-in center, and describe themselves as “deeply and passionately queer”.

Peiffer believes that academic institutions like PPCC can take highly specific actions to make themselves more accessible to students who identify within the LGBTQIA2+ community.  She said, “[An inclusive college] would make pronouns a standard in every email and introduction.  It would provide safe membership and housing in queer spaces.  It would actively employ queer adults and professors.  It would have active queer leadership in its faculty and staff.  It have a course curriculum that included gay icons as a standard in every class, not just queer specific history classes.  I know this college, and it doesn’t exist in this city.  And it could– it so easily could.”

Visible changes like the ones Peiffer described are important for the safety of students who identify as LGBTQIA2+. Statistics show that LGBTQIA2+ people are more at risk for homelessness and suicide.

Colorado Coalition for the Homeless reports that LGBTQIA2+ youth in Colorado experience homelessness at twice the rate of their cisgender heterosexual peers, and comprise between 20 and 40 percent of the total homeless population.  Inside Out Youth Services likewise states that “30% of Inside Out youth are currently experiencing homelessness.”

Gender and sexual minorities also have higher risks of suicide.  The Center for Disease Control (or CDC) reports that “suicide risk is higher among people who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual.” Colorado ranks 7th in the United States for most deaths by suicide, and El Paso County leads Colorado in suicide rates.

One study by Columbia Professor Mark Hatzenbuehler surveyed nearly 32,000 high school students from both politically conservative and politically liberal areas, and concluded that, “Among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth, the risk of attempting suicide was 20% greater in unsupportive environments compared to supportive environments. A more supportive social environment was significantly associated with fewer suicide attempts.”

These statistics are notable in light of Colorado Springs’ heavily conservative demographic.

“Colorado Springs is known in many circles as the Christian mecca of the world,” said Nic Vargas (they/them), a PPCC alumnus who now serves as a coach for youth who are in recovery. People in recovery are people recovering from something, whether that is substance use, trauma, or something else. “What that means is that there are more churches than almost anywhere else. At all. Most of those churches are white Evangelical, and unfortunately, their view of love does not include the LGBTQIA2+ community. And it has been very harmful, in fact, to all of us here.”

Vargas called doing LGBTQIA2+ work in Colorado Springs “an active community resistance.” They said, “We have always been here, and it’s important that the people in Colorado Springs know that we’re not going anywhere and that we are going to change this place first, and then the world.”

Because of that, it’s critical that faculty and staff members at PPCC work hard to provide a safe space for LGBTQIA2+ students.

There have been multiple efforts to reach students through programs and initiatives on campus.  Ricardo Perez is an openly gay man who assists the office of Equity and Inclusion, and his work has included the creation of a support group called the Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA), which serves LGBTQIA2+ students and allies.

In 2019, an allyship program was founded by Katherine Sturdevant (who teaches History), Steven Collins (who teaches Communication), and Kristina Charfauros (the Student Event Coordinator).  This program provided space for conversations and discussions, but it lost momentum after the Covid-19 pandemic and is no longer active.

“I wish the college had more resources and monies to fund and build a center like the Mosaic Center at UCCS to better support LGBTQIA students, staff, and faculty,” Perez said.

Many students told The Paper they are frustrated with the lack of certain accommodations.

Casper Reese, a student involved in both the GSA and Inside Out, wrote, “I know something that would help a lot of queer people feel more comfortable would be gender-neutral bathrooms. I would also like a way to let teachers know our pronouns without having to come out to every teacher. For example, when you get edit your profile on D2L, it provides a place for a nickname. It would be great if there were a box like that for pronouns.”

There are currently three gender neutral bathrooms across all campuses— including two labeled ‘family bathrooms’ and one labeled as ‘gender neutral’ at the Centennial campus.  There are none at Rampart Range or the Downtown Studio campuses.

Emma Decker, another student involved in the GSA, wrote, “Some things seem very gendered still, for example the nursing room says nursing mothers instead of nursing parents. Also, I’ve seen many students getting deadnamed in classes, especially on the first day when teachers are trying to put names to faces. I think educating some teachers would be important here.”

According to Peiffer, “changes such as these are small adjustments and small inclusions that don’t even have to be queer electrified, they just need to be present.  They don’t need to be discounted.”

If you are an LGBTQIA2+ student at PPCC looking for support, check out the Gender and Sexuality Alliance or reach out to the therapy office.  If you need immediate help, call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Trevor Project’s hotline for LGBT+ youth at https://www.thetrevorproject.org/get-help/.