TTN (The Tiger News): In terms of gender and pronouns, how would you identify yourself?
AD (Abbie Darling): I use she, her, hers—I use female pronouns and I’m cisgender. But as far as identity goes, I usually identify myself as queer.
I didn’t even come out to my parents until I wrote this post. And they called me in, and they were like “what is queer?” a lot of people have that question. But gender and sexuality is such a spectrum. I usually just identify myself, as bisexual so people can understand like “yeah, you like both.” Because if you say that you’re queer, people will be like, “well, what are you, really?” But typically, queer is generally what I identify myself as.
TTN: What motivated you to carry your flag around campus the day after the election, and carry it still today?
AD: For me personally, Wednesday I was really scared. I was really scared to leave my house. There was a lot of crying. And then I realized that crying and being angry wasn’t going to fix anything. I felt especially scared in Clemson, in South Carolina, and I realized that wasn’t really fair of me to suggest…but then again, I thought I had reason to believe that [this community] may be less of an inclusive community, I mean it wasn’t like I hadn’t had experiences like that before the election. And I was worried about it happening in tenfold.
For me personally, I go around this campus looking like everybody else. I mean I’m blonde, I’m little—I’m just a little, white girl. You can’t tell I’m different just by looking at me. But there are marginalized communities that don’t have that don’t have that luxury.
They wear it on their faces every single day. They don’t get a chance to hide—per say. And it’s not fair for me to do that either. So the place of privilege that I’m coming from—an upper middle class, white female—was probably the best place to take on this task. So that’s why I’m wearing my little advertisement. This is who I am. I’m not going to hide from you.
TTN: What kind of positive reaction did you get from this?
AD: I was kind of surprised because my first day doing this, I only got negative feedback. But once it gained traction on social media, people were so supportive. And I have people that I don’t know come up to me and give me hugs, and tell me that they support me: professors, and faculty, and administration reaching out to me and try to talk to me.
Dr. [Chris] Miller was the first person from administration to reach out to me. And I had a meeting with him, and he invited me to the inclusive excellence committee. And It was really a different thing than I was expecting, you know. I was expecting people with me, but I certainly wasn’t expecting it to get as big as it did. But it did. And I really, really value all the support that I’ve gotten. I love it when people come up to me and are like, “hey, what you’re doing is awesome,” and I’m like, “you’re awesome.” Thank you for showing me that there are people in this community that are supportive. I’m not as afraid now…hopefully there enough allies in this community that help bring ligh to this issue, that really is an issue in Clemson.
A lot of people said that they are shocked by what happens must be coming from a place of extreme political privilege. Because I’ve gone to this school for 2 and a half years and [negativity] is not a new thing to me.
TTN: The post mentioned that the first day, Clemson “failed.” What was the experience of that first day like?
AD: So the first day [consisted] of mainly young white men yelling words at me that I can’t repeat and you can’t print…yelling at me from their pick-up trucks and cars. Or people whispering things. Or you know, not really whispering. I could certainly hear them…whether it was in class, or in line for the dining hall or Starbucks. People said nasty things. I haven’t had experience with real threat but it doesn’t mean that it’s not there. The hate is there.
TTN: has the abrasiveness continued? Do you still deal with it?
AD: I do. It’s definitely easier to deal with when I have all these nice people coming up and saying nice things to me all the time. Obviously, I have enough sense to avoid internet trolls, but a lot of the people online are not trolls…they’re people who are genuinely upset, you think I’m trying to make Clemson look bad. Or that I’m a crybaby…but it doesn’t. It doesn’t faze me at an emotional level. But that doesn’t make it okay. I’m a thick-skinned person, but that doesn’t mean everybody has to be.
TTN: I guess the obvious question is are you still planning to leave?
AD: That is the question. And that is something I have wrestled with since the beginning of this [endeavor]. There is a lot I want to change at Clemson. And I have spit views on this. My family really wants me to be safe. You know they absolutely support me to be whoever I am. But they don’t want me to go and piss off the wrong guy and get hurt. They don’t want me to put myself within direct threat…. and I don’t either.
And my sister who is a lesbian, and is happily married with a baby on the way, told me that sometimes if you have get out for your safety, that’s okay. Sometimes you can fight the fire outside of the fire. But at the same time I see these posts saying, “Don’t move to Canada, move to a red state and become a teacher.” Well now I’m a red state and education major. If I stay, I feel like I could change a lot of this. We’ll see I guess—I mean I’m registered for classes. And I only have one more year, so it would be pretty difficult for me to transfer. And I love Clemson, I love my educational program, I love the things that I’m learning here. It’s just, the environment and the administration’s lack of response to that environment.
TTN: At your meeting with administration, did their offer to help and support you seem genuine?
AD: I think the majority of administration wants the campus to change., and is really are trying to do its best. But they are limited in what they can do because they are not the president and they are not the vice president. They don’t have the authority. They don’t want to overstep their bounds.
TTN: For the students that are still closeted on campus, and for any LGBTQ+ student who may be feeling scared—what do you have to say to them?
AD: I say, for closeted students, it’s okay to be in the closet. That doesn’t make you weak. It’s okay if you’re scared. There’s a lot of stuff to be scared about. Closeted, I don’t think really call myself closeted because a lot of my close friends knew but you know, I had certainly set that part of identity aside and just tried to fit in at Clemson. I told myself that I probably was not going to be able to find a huge support community, so I’ll set that part of my identity aside at Clemson and just pretend to be normal. But for anyone who feeling scared on campus, you have the right to be. What you’re feeling is valid. Your feelings are valid.
Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re being weak, or that you should just get over it. Those people don’t understand what you’re going through at all. And it’s okay, if you aren’t strong enough right now, to not take a stand. But when you are, we all need to come together. When we are ready, and when we feel safe. Don’t just risk yourself with no abandon. And that’s okay. Make a stand that you are comfortable with and make a stand knowing that you can make a difference.