From the Mouth of Emily April “Ally”

Emily April Allen is the first supportive Ally in the Queer and Ally Student Assembly's history to be elected as the Executive Director.

Why are you an Ally?

I’ve been an Ally as long as I can remember. I was born into a very diverse family. First of all, we’re very Jewish, and my family lives in Fort Worth, Texas, which doesn’t have the hugest population, so we were different in that respect. But we’re also a very LGBT-friendly family. My parents were always supportive of the queer community, but it wasn’t a huge topic of discussion until my siblings came out—my older brother as gay and my younger sister as a lesbian in their senior years of high school. But in my family, nothing really changed. My siblings expressed their sexual identities, but that was it. We were still the same family, just a little more vocal in exuding rainbow pride.

How did you start your involvement?

When I entered USC, though, I realized I could take my passion for being an Ally and turn it into something…well…useful. I started getting involved in the Queer and Ally Student Assembly, or QuASA (which was called the GLBT Assembly at the time), my freshman year, but only a bit. I stayed where I was comfortable, which was in the member organization JAGS: Jewish Alliance for GLBT’s and Straights. I was president of that organization my sophomore year, which put me on the executive board of QuASA. I wasn’t prepared for how immersed I would get into the inner-workings of the queer community at USC, but after a few months learning about how to program events, my enthusiasm for spreading my pride throughout the USC campus heavily increased. I loved learning about how we as a board could reach out to the LGBT and Ally community through programming, promotion, and positive presentation. I was encouraged to consider applying for the Executive Director position at the end of my sophomore year, and I took it on. I was elected for the 2010-2011 year.

What motivates you to stay involved?

There are many reasons why people may scratch their heads at why a straight, white, Jewish girl would have an interest in heading an entire assembly devoted to the LGBT community. And I understand why people would also question why anyone would elect a straight, white, Jewish girl to head this assembly. But to be honest, I don’t think it was too big an issue.

In my opinion, Allies are a part of the community. I think it’s even more of a reinforcement that the queer community looked past labels and focused on who I was as a person and a leader. No one ever vocally doubted me, and if they did without my knowledge, then I hope that I proved them wrong throughout the course of the year.  As for why I had an interest, it saddens me that this is such a prevalent question. Why does someone have to identify with every part of a community in order to support them? That’s the biggest message I hope I sent to Allies: that you don’t have to identify as LGBT to make a difference in the LGBT community. Allies play a huge role in supporting and advocating for this population, and every voice is important.

Of course, I am personally connected to the community because I am so close to my brother and sister, but that’s just the spark that set off my involvement. I think that everyone can find something that’s important to them and that they’re passionate about and turn it into something bigger. Just like I started out with JAGS, in a space I was comfortable in, it’s important to get out of your comfort zone and do things that make you proud of yourself.

You started The Ally Project.  What is it?

The whole idea of starting small was what inspired me to begin the Ally Project in October 2010. Called “Coming Out as an Ally,” I created this project to acknowledge how much support there really is on this campus, even if people don’t speak about it publicly. With tons of help from some amazing members of the board, I took pictures of over 1000 people, on campus and beyond, holding signs that said “I Am An Ally,” and encouraged people to post pictures of their own on our Facebook group.

This project was an emotional and inspiring experience for me in that it showed how many supporters we had at USC, and how many people were willing to be vocal about it. It also brought together different corners of the USC campus, from cultural groups, to the Greek community, to comedy groups, etc., to join as one. The enthusiasm and support I received from the USC community–students, faculty, and staff–was overwhelming.

This project proved to me, and hopefully all that were involved, how much a little message goes a long way. This is truly what I am most proud of this year, and I hope that it becomes an ongoing tradition. I am looking forward to focusing my attention even more on this project next semester.

Where do you see QuASA in the next five years?

In five years, I hope to see QuASA continue programming diverse events that appeal to a wide range of interests. I also hope that more people become aware of all the events we do put on—we program many, and they are all equally wonderful, but not equally acknowledged! It is due to the amazing efforts of the executive board that these events are possible. People with creative and inspirational minds create a creative and inspirational community.

I also hope to see other Ally directors in the future, or at least more Allies playing crucial roles in promoting acceptance and equality. It’s not about who you like, it’s about who you are—and all you need is motivation for change. Being the director of QuASA was without a doubt the most fulfilling and meaningful experience I’ve had at USC. It is with bittersweet emotions that I pass my position on, but I’m so excited to see all of the new changes that QuASA makes next year!

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