by Lisa Galek
After seeing fantastic turnout at events focused on asexual (ace) and aromantic (aro) identities, Timothy R. Bussey (they/them) knew there was work to be done. With a lack of media representation and basic information about ace and aro identities, misconceptions abound…even within the LGBTQ+ community.
“Frankly, we still have folks in our broader LGBTQ+ community that don’t necessarily think ace and aro identities belong,” says Bussey.
They hope a dedicated ace and aro organization—the first one in Ohio—could counteract that while also offering much-needed support and advocacy to this invisibilized community.
The Buckeye Flame spoke with Bussey, the executive director of the Ace and Aro Alliance of Central Ohio that was launched in September, about the group’s education efforts, their Ace Week event this past October, and the support they hope to offer to the ace and aro communities.
Why did you decide to create the group? And what was it like launching everything in the middle of a pandemic?
This was actually an idea that I’ve kind of wanted to act on for a while. Obviously, there have been so many challenges with the pandemic, but I think it also provided me with some of the time to recognize the need for a standalone ace and aro group.
In terms of the organization being founded, it was actually through a different virtual event during the pandemic. I’m on the board of directors for Newark Ohio Pride Coalition. When the stay-at-home orders started in Ohio, we partnered with GLSEN Central Ohio to host what we called an Online Development Series. We did several events that had ace and aro elements in them, along with several other identities within the broader LGBTQ+ community.
We partnered with the Equitas Health Institute in mid-May to host a panel on ace and aro experiences, [which was] wildly successful. Seeing that level of turnout told me the interest is there, people want to learn more about ace and aro identities, and ace and aro folks want to be better represented in the work that’s happening across the region.
Since then, with the events that we’ve had, we’ve continued to see a really strong level of interest in learning more about ace and aro identities. So that event was kind of the spark that ignited it all, so to speak.
We’re really thankful for the organizations that helped us with getting funds and providing us with advice and guidance on how to how to start the work as a new organization. Kimberly at OCTOPUS, LLC was fantastic and super helpful. The board of the Newark Ohio Pride Collation was really supportive. GLSEN Central Ohio and Equitas Health Institute were initial partners that helped out with that first panel that really led to this organization starting. And then, of course, Equality Ohio, who also provided a lot of really useful guidance and support as we were getting started.
You hosted an Ace Week event in October. How did that go?
Ace Week is always the last full week in October. Our big standalone event for Ace Week was a panel of asexual people from across Central Ohio. So, our focus was to work with the broader diversity in the ace community and different identities under that broader umbrella, such as demisexual and graysexual, and asexual folks, too. And trying to make sure we had other elements of diversity. The Ace Week panel largely focused on challenges that ace people face and on what we could share with the broader community in terms of better supporting ace people. We had about 120 people at that one. And it was also co-sponsored with the Equitas Health Institute and GLSEN Central Ohio since we partnered so well for the ace and aro panel back in May. We’re very thankful for them helping to make that event a success.
What other events have you held since July? And what events do you have coming up in the future?
Before Ace Week, we helped out with a Virtual Learning Series that TransOhio did. We were invited to do a session on the experiences of non-binary ace folks using data from the Ace Community Census, which is the largest source of data on the asexual community across the world. We were essentially sharing some things that we know about the non-binary community within the broader ace community.
For Ace Week, we also did a talk on ace inclusion in educational settings with an ace group that we’re connected with in the Dallas Fort Worth area. That’s one of the nice things about all the virtual programming is that we can easily hop over to Texas for a program! And we were also invited to do an Ace Week presentation on the basics—the 101—of the ace community by the Office of Gender and Sexuality at Denison University. We also presented at the Transforming Care Conference earlier in October with our partners at GLSEN Central Ohio on how to make more ace-inclusive sex-ed programs.
In terms of things coming up, we’re still working on planning. The next big thing that we’re having is an event in recognition of Aro Week, February 21 through 27, 2021. But in terms of other things, we’re working to see what type of programming ace and aro folks are most interested in engaging, and also what type of programming is most useful for our allies who are trying to learn more about how to support ace and aro folks.
What are some of the main topics that come up during your events? Things you’re trying to educate around? Or that people are interested in learning about ace and aro identities?
I think with ace and aro identities, in particular, it’s one of those identities under that broader LGBTQ+ umbrella that doesn’t really get the same amount of attention in terms of media representation. It’s hard for allies to find resources to better understand ace and aro experiences and support people in those communities.
One thing that I’ve noticed is there’s a lot of 101 work that still needs to be done, understanding that asexuality and aromanticism are valid identities that are a part of the LGBTQ+ community. Because, frankly, we still have folks in our broader LGBTQ+ community that don’t necessarily think ace and aro identities belong. There’s a lot of that 101 work of better informing folks about the multiple layers of attraction and recognizing the kind of challenges that ace and aro people can face. I’ve noticed a lot of folks seem very interested in better learning the basics and also better learning how their organizations, events, programs, or services can be more inclusive to ace and aro people.
An area where we don’t necessarily see as much ace inclusion, in particular, is sex-ed programs and HIV prevention. The assumption is if you’re ace, then you’re not going to have sex, so maybe you don’t need this resource. But the reality is a substantial portion of the ace community reports having had consensual sexual experiences. I think the Ace Community Census had it around a third of the community or so back in 2018. When you look at that, it’s obvious we have to talk about HIV and STI prevention with this community too. The presumption is you’re not having sex, but the reality is, just because someone has an ace identity doesn’t mean that they’re not engaging in some form of sexual contact at some point, for some reason, and that also doesn’t invalidate their ace identity.
That’s just one example of some of the bigger work to be done. But sometimes, it really is just the vocabulary. Folks that are like, “I want to be supportive, but I don’t know what you mean by aromantic. Or I don’t know what you mean by asexual. I don’t know what you mean by demisexual or demiromantic.” A lot of times, it is sort of that 101-level work of making sure that folks know what these identities are in the first place.
- Learn more about Ace and Aro Alliance of Central Ohio by going to their Facebook page.
Lisa Galek is a freelance writer and editor. Her writing has appeared in Northeast Ohio Parent, Refinery29, Northern Ohio Live, and on, literally, thousands of American Greetings cards. She lives in the suburbs of Cleveland with her husband and three very clever daughters.