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Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

The student news site of the University of Northern Iowa

Northern Iowan

Celebrating queer stories

UNI alum Archer Trip volunteers to lead the Queer Book Club. The group meets to discuss the queer books they are reading and to create a safe space of community for LGBT students and allies.

Amidst the recent restrictions on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) on college campuses across the country, services for gay and transgender students at universities have also suffered. The UNI Queer Book Club, a safe space for many, has felt this chiefly in their lack of a full-time Gender and Sexuality Services (GSS) staff member. The club’s current leader, Archer Trip, is a recent graduate of UNI and is volunteering to run the organization.

For the members of the Queer Book Club, each meeting provides an opportunity to share the book they’re reading, enjoy snacks and coloring sheets and decompress.

“Queer Book Club gives me a space to breathe. I feel like I don’t have to tip-toe around things,” student Bella Markley said.

Another student who wished to remain anonymous added that the club provides a needed safe space. “I am only out in the Cedar Falls and UNI community, my mom does not support me. Already, here, I feel very welcome.”

The club has also given students like Brook Cade courage and confidence in their identities.

“This was the first place I came out as gender fluid and non-binary and everyone was very welcoming,” Cade said.

Queer books, in general, have provided the members with a sense of comfort, often from an early age. “When I was younger and saw the word ‘bisexual’ for the first time at a public library I felt euphoric. The person described the word and I thought ‘Oh, that makes sense,’” said another student who wished to remain anonymous.

For others, the club and the books have created a space for healing. “Reading these  books as a conversion therapy survivor helped me realize that life was worth living,” said UNI alum and the current club leader Archer Trip.

The students emphasized the radical nature of the club within the community and the significance of the organization. “A lot of us here are oftentimes the firsts in our families. Even with the elders in our community, we’re often the first creating book clubs and leading coalitions,” said student Nic Trip.

A student who wished to remain anonymous added, “With how things are now in realms of education, reading queer books is being targeted so much. Even on college campuses with DEI. Spaces where we can be openly queer are so important.”

The urgency to protect these spaces and this literature has mounted with the recent  book bans in states such as Iowa. Senate File 496, signed into law by Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds in May 2023, has helped remove more than 450 individual works by more than 300 authors from the libraries of Iowa schools. The law also prohibits any teaching about gender or gender identity until seventh grade.

“These bans are doing a disservice to so many youth,” Markley said. “It’s not just important for queer students to have this, but also for straight and cisgender students to know that they’re not the standard … I just started my level two (teacher training) here at Cedar Falls, and I had to introduce myself and I added photos of myself at Queer Book Club, and I asked my teacher if I can mention the club, and I was told I could not mention anything queer at all,” Markley explained.

Nic Trip added, “Book bans ban information. We focus on reading banned books and  discuss why they’re banned afterward. In reality, so many of us have shared personal stories about books that have made us feel like ‘Oh, this is ok.’”

The group reads a variety of books, including some of the titles above. For several students, these books were some of the first encounters they had with LGBT characters, which played a key role in them discovering their own identities. Since May 2023, book banning bills have removed over 450 works from school libraries in Iowa. (COURTESY/ARCHER TRIP)

The students went on to stress the importance of representation, using personal  stories, like that of student Knell Arthur.

“I came out as trans in early 2021. One of the events that led to my coming out was  meeting a trans person. I almost regret that I wasn’t able to come out sooner. Even then, everything was still in hushed tones. I feel grief for the trans childhood and middle school that I missed out on. I hope more people don’t have to go through that. Partially, so people like me can see themselves in fiction,” said Arthur.

The group is currently reading “This Poison Heart” by Kalynn Bayron. The YA novel centers on Briseis, a young Black queer woman with the ability to control plants. They meet every Thursday at 5 p.m. in the GSS office in the plaza level of Maucker Union.

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