This interview was originally featured on the Queer Voices Instagram page @queer_voices.
Biomedical Art and Visualization major Emerson Harman created the Queer Voices Project, which is working “to amplify LGBTQ+ student, faculty, and alumni voices at Rowan University through portraits and interviews.” You can also find more of their content here.
Name, pronouns, and identity?
My name is Ella Emmer, my pronouns are she/her, and identify as gay.
What is your year in school and your major?
I’m a junior Psychology major and am also pursuing a minor in German.
Unfortunately, the first part of my coming out journey was being outed. I got outed my sophomore year of high school to my field hockey team, my coaches, and the entire athletic wing. I had a lot of different friend groups and so it was kinda divided. My friends in the theater wing didn’t find out until I chose to come out my junior year.
The first time I chose to come out I felt like it was almost a form of activism. I was in my high school psychology class and I heard really harmful and derogatory words being thrown around and so I turned around to the group of guys saying those harmful things and I said, ‘Well, what’s wrong with being gay,’ which immediately shocked everyone into silence. He tried to defend it and be like ‘Well Daniella, what would you do if a girl came up and tried to kiss you, wouldn’t you think it’s weird,’ and despite not being out to anyone in the school except that one athletic section, I said, ‘I’d kiss her right back’ and then he was like ‘Oh so you’re a dyke’ to which I said yes.
It was a very uncomfortable experience and it was extremely embarrassing in the moment, but it’s something I look back on with pride because I wanted to make a statement. I didn’t like how no one was saying anything, especially the teacher because I knew he was hearing what was happening. After that class I had a really long and meaningful talk with my high school choir director and he said something that has stuck with me since. He said, ‘Empower yourself and live in your light,’ and that’s something I still live by today.
Has being LGBTQ impacted or influenced your education?
Being gay, one of the criteria I looked at when choosing a college was how accepting of LGBTQ students they were and the resources they have for our community. When I saw that Rowan has various LGBTQ+ clubs and the SJICR center, it made me feel very at-home and comfortable, and also I’ve always been someone who loves activism and social justice work, so finding Prism felt like a perfect fit. It felt like a great balance between being a social group for LGBTQ members to meet each other as well as pursuing activist work.
I also want to be a trauma therapist, and part of my mission is to advocate and support LGBTQ+ individuals because unfortunately, people in the LGBTQ+ community are more likely to face trauma.
Has LGBTQ culture and acceptance changed throughout your time at Rowan?
In my experience, I’ve always felt that Rowan has been a very accepting place. I’ve loved to see Prism grow over the years. When I first started it was a small, tight-knit group and now we’re still a family but it’s amazing each year to see more and more people join the family and it makes my heart so happy.
How has attending Rowan helped you in finding an inclusive community?
I was lucky enough to find Prism early on and because of that, I met some of my closest friends. I found people who understood and related to experiences I’ve had. There’s a bond that comes from facing similar oppressive situations. While extremely unfortunate, we all understand what it’s like to be rejected for who we are, and have faced discrimination in one form or another. I’m so lucky to have found Prism and all of the amazing people in the club.
Were there any faculty that you particularly enjoyed, inspired you and/or made you feel you had a safe space?
I initially met JoAnna Murphy by accident, but ever since she has been the person I go to for everything. JoAnna exudes traits that the rest of this world needs to adopt. I truly admire her compassion, authenticity, and dedication to create change in the world. She is a woman and activist I strive to emulate. I feel so lucky to know her and have her as a mentor. JoAnna has undoubtedly affected my experience at Rowan in an extremely positive way.
Is there anything you would want to see changed at Rowan in regards to LGBTQ+ life?
I’ve heard many painful stories that my friends have shared about their professors aren’t using the right pronouns or the right name. I feel that that is completely unacceptable and there is no reason why professors or anyone for that matter can’t respect someone’s identity. In the future I would hope to see change implemented that holds all professional staff to provide a safe and welcoming environment for all of their students.
Anything else you want to discuss?
The journey of figuring out your identity can be extremely terrifying and it can feel isolating, but I want people to know that they’re not alone in any of it and that they have a community. They’re exactly valid and worthy for who they are and if anyone ever needs support or a safe person to talk to, just know that I’m an email away.
Like what you see?