I think OU really does try to make campus feel like a community. No matter where I go, there is a sense of community even within the organizations that are not LGBTQ+-focused.
“I remember when I was accepted and committed to OU. I looked all over OU’s website, searching for LGBTQ+ organizations. Then, at Camp Crimson, I asked a Small Group Leader (SGL) which organizations were accepting of queer people. They told me many organizations were accepting and inclusive of LGBTQ+ people. So, I joined the ones that fit my passions, and all of them have loved and accepted me for who I am with no questions asked. Some organizations have even made changes to previous bylaws to include inclusive language for all people.”
Hailing from Inola, Oklahoma, a rural town with just over 2,000 inhabitants, Ezra Koenig entered OU with goals in mind: they wanted to find their community, study what they are passionate about, and make a lasting difference.
By the end of Ezra’s second semester of freshman year at OU, they changed majors and discovered their perfect fit within the Department of Religious Studies as a Religious Studies major.
“At college, I have had many amazing opportunities that tapped into my passions that I did not realize I had,” Ezra said. “I wanted to make a difference in another way. When I decided on the Religious Studies major, I wanted to go to seminary to become a pastor specifically for queer people and fight the queer negativity that happens in places of faith.”
Through exploring the opportunities at OU and taking advantage of the flexibility of changing tracks, Ezra switched their minor in LGBTQ+ Studies to a major in Women and Gender Studies and tacked on another major in Public and Nonprofit Administration.
“I got involved with the LGBTQ+ Student Alliance to find other people like me and honestly, just to find new friends,” Ezra said. “I joined the LGBTQ+ Mentorship Program to be the mentor I needed my freshman year and to help my mentees navigate their first year at OU.”
The mission of the LGBQT+ Mentorship Program is to connect LGBTQ+ students with their peers and members of the OU community. Through educational and social opportunities, students establish and build mentoring relationships and a support network centering their LGBTQ+ identity. The program fosters an affirming environment that encourages self-discovery and community advocacy.
For Ezra, their freshman year was a self-actualizing journey in discovering their gender identity, what they wanted to study, and how to find their community. Entering college, they didn’t have a tight-knit group of friends. They felt disconnected from a support group until they paved their own way and founded the OU organization, Out in Faith.
“Out in Faith seeks to bridge the gap between religion and the LGBTQ+ community,” Ezra said. “I grew up religious and still identify as a Christian. I did not always hear great things about LGBTQ+ people when in certain religious spaces. As a Religious Studies major, I wanted a community where people can freely talk about our positive and negative experiences in religion.”
As June marks a country-wide celebration for LGBTQ+ people, history, and communities, Ezra plans to celebrate locally in the nearby metro, Oklahoma City.
“I’m going to OKC Pride with friends from OU who are in town for the summer,” Ezra said.
During Pride Month, OKC holds annual celebrations, including artistic and celebratory events, like PrideFest and Pride on 39th.