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Giving voice

“Stand up and speak to increase the visibility of those who aren’t seen. But also know when it is your time to sit and lend the microphone to those whose experiences can be louder and more articulate than yours, ” said Carrie Seigler ’14.

A contributor to the Southern Stories Program for GLAAD, she is using her powerful voice for the LGBT community to encourage a progressive dialogue between Americans and the media.

Founded in the 1980s as a whistle blower organization, GLAAD called out defamatory news about HIV/AIDS and LGBT people. Now less reactive and more proactive, the organization works with news outlets and TV programs to teach the media how to respectfully write about the LGBT community. GLAAD is the loudest and most venerated LGBT activism group in American media, and Seigler is helping to mobilize their cause.

Two weeks into freshmen year, she declared a sociology major, having fallen in love with her Introduction to Sociology course. “The class articulated the way I saw the world in a way I didn’t know existed.” After an Engaged Living trip to El Salvador where she saw firsthand what extreme poverty looks like, she declared Poverty Studies as a minor.

While at Furman, Seigler was involved in research and social activism, including research about self esteem of immigrant children for the Frazee center, legal aid for Women Against Rape in Botswana, research about San Francisco’s LGBT homeless community, and a study of how an Atlanta Church equips their parishioners with theology that is inclusive of their identities as LGBT people of faith.

Knowing her course schedule would be tight, Seigler planned her Furman career around going on the Southern Africa Study Away trip her junior year. “Africa was the capstone moment for me—not just for Furman but for my life. It shaped my trajectory for reasons I never anticipated.” Before visiting Africa, Seigler was interested in justice and community development oversees, but afterward, she realized just how very American and Southern she was. And from her perspective, she had an opportunity to make a dramatic change right here at home.

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Carrie Seigler (center) and event staff at NYC PRIDE 2015

As part of the new Southern Stories Program for GLAAD, Seigler works to improve the state of LGBT acceptance in the South. She has seen positive changes in her hometown over the years, but she also knows that like many states, South Carolina still has a long way to go.

Seigler’s job focuses on highlighting and communicating news stories rather than breaking them. Over the summer, she worked to combat two well-known cases of defamation. The first occurred when Caitlyn Jenner appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair and news outlets both refused to call her “Caitlyn” and also used transphobic language. Seigler was also involved in the case of Vogue’s 2015 July centerpiece on Cara Delevingne where the writer called Delevingne’s bisexuality “a phase.” Seigler says that GLAAD is part of a changing national conversation that is not just about the LGBT community, but about individuals at the intersection of multiple spheres, including categories of identification including race, class, and disability.

On Furman’s campus, Seigler was an ally of EROS (Encouraging Respect of Sexualities). She remembers the group as loud and present, bringing both educational social activism as well as a safe place to Furman students. “Because I fit the mold of a typical Furman student, it was a difficult practice of empathy” she says. Though she was well aware of the group’s initiative, she admits there were other students who did not know much about EROS. This issue reflects a larger pattern for groups who want to balance being a place of safety with being socially active: increasing LGBT visibility is positive because it can increase acceptance, but it can also be the equivalent of putting a target on a marginalized community’s back, opening up further chances for victimization.

“The difference allies make is exponential; the single most influential factor for LGBT acceptance is personally knowing someone who is a member of the LGBT community or knowing an ally.” For allies of LGBT people, a sort of coming out is an important demonstration of solidarity.

Seigler is in the process of applying for The Luce Foundation Luce Scholars Program which teaches young Americans with a clear idea of their career and no previous exposure to Asia to do their work in Asia. Seigler says that with her strong background in Abrahamic faiths, her dream is to go to Bangkok to do her work at the intersection of Dharmic religions and LGBT activism.

 

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