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A different kind of romance: St. Valentine’s Day experiences in the LGBT+ community

Kellie Pleshinger

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Cards, balloons, flowers and chocolates. Steak dinners at candlelit restaurants or movie nights on the couch. Red hearts and teddy bears.

Valentine’s Day heralds a time for celebrating romantic love. The holiday is traditionally spent out at fancy restaurants, with hands holding tight to other hands, or cuddled underneath a blanket with an empty chocolate container, pressing the button to play the fifth episode in a row.

Whether spending it in a relationship or not, Valentine’s Day is the time of year that highlights the love in a person’s life.

For some, however, the holiday marks a time of loneliness, difficulty and even prejudice.
“I would imagine it is difficult for a lot of the LGBT kids, especially the ones that are either completely homosexual or just have leanings towards same-sex preferences,” Julia Hines, the secretary for Eagles for PRIDE, said.

The LGBT community refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other people of non-heterosexual preferences. With a history of violence and prejudice against this community, a day for celebrating love can either be a time for struggle or for more special celebration, Hines said.

As an executive member of Eagles for PRIDE, Hines expressed how hard it can be to talk to someone “without being scared that you might find prejudice or hatred toward you.”
Meanwhile, the overall the community displays mixed opinions on Valentine’s Day, just like the heterosexual community.

Cillian Donahue, AU student and member of the LGBT community, said that the holiday “can feel really isolating” for LGBT people, particularly when single.

“The fact that Valentine’s Day is portrayed a lot of the times on social media particularly between straight couples…there’s something about gifts and things at stores being so heteronormative,” Donahue said.

While the holiday can be difficult for the LGBT community, Vice President of Eagles for PRIDE Jake Wenger said that the experiences of the community, like any community, should not be generalized, as each person has unique feelings and experiences.

Eagles for PRIDE, Ashland University’s LGBT club, works to create a safe space for LGBT youth here on campus.

“The point of the organization is that it’s known that there is an LGBT community here in this area on campus.” Wenger said. “I think that helps for people just to come out because this is the first time that they are away from their families, and maybe they can’t come out to their family, but they can come out here at college.”

While still a new organization on campus, Hines said that Eagles for PRIDE would consider hosting a Valentine’s Day event sometime in the future to give students a fun and comforting space.

This safe space of Eagles for PRIDE exists not only in tough times of the year around holidays but also as a constant presence on campus.

“AU itself is a lighthouse surrounded by the sea, because in AU you find so many people who are accepting, including the staff and other students, and it just definitely feels like a place where, on campus, you definitely have allies, and I think we’re starting to get people to understand that,” Hines said.

Hines feels as Ashland University’s campus is growing more diverse and more accepting, the broader media, including social media, television, film and literature, continues grow in support, normalcy and acceptance.

LGBT representation in books, television and movies that Hines, Donahue, and Wenger recommend for Valentine’s Day include “Love, Simon,” “I’ll Give You the Sun,” “We Are The Ants,” “The Foster’s,” “Sense8” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Hines, recommending the novel “We Are The Ants,” said that representation in which the characters’ sexual identity “is definitely a part of [the plot] but it’s not the full story” is important, as those characters “show that [the LGBT people] are just the same as anyone else.”

Representation of LGBT in media is becoming more prevalent in more accepting ways, and while the process is slow, it cannot be pushed, Wenger said.

While normativity for the LGBT community grows in the eyes of the Ashland University campus and the world as a whole, the individual member struggles with Valentine’s Day and his or her or their sexual identity still persists.

It is especially difficult for those who are closeted or face adversity, Donahue said.

“No matter what your experience is, someone out there has had the same or something very similar you or what you have gone through.” Wenger said. “If you can’t come out to your blood family, your friends are your family, and this community is your family. You are not alone.”

As for those not in the community who hope to make this holiday more enjoyable for all, Donahue recommends being cautious of one’s words “because you never know what your friends are experiencing,” stressing the AU community be genuine and kind.

While Valentine’s Day can be both enjoyable and lonely no matter what one’s sexual preference is, the holiday can signify something important to anyone and can emphasize any sort of love in one’s life.

“It’s important to remember that V-Day is just a day to celebrate people that you love and that doesn’t have to be romantic love.” Donahue said. “Even if you’re not in a relationship there are people in your life that you love, and it’s a day to celebrate that, too.”

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