I don’t think I could have imagined last fall just how challenging and, at times, frustrating returning to school would be once I actually set foot in class this January. After nearly four years of absence, I decided last fall to finish that elusive bachelor’s degree I put off when in September 2007 I was offered and accepted the position of editor at Charlotte’s QNotes.

Belk Tower. UNC Charlotte. Photo by Andy Ciordia.

Excitement and anticipation ruled the day in January and it continued throughout the semester, even as school and professional work piled on to make my life more stressful than it’s probably ever been. While I’ve enjoyed the renewed college experience (though my experience of “college life” is mighty different now that I’m a little older), I have one major, frustrating regret: I closeted myself.

Yes, me: Big queer activist since the age of 14; gay blogger and citizen journo since college; editor of an LGBT newspaper; volunteer and grassroots organizer; the “most flamboyant, outspoken queer teen Winston-Salem had ever seen,” or so I wrote in my chapter in 2008’s “CRISIS: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay in America.”

It wasn’t an intentional closeting by any means. LGBT subjects — save ancient Greek pederasty, and I don’t think that counts — never came up in class; had they, I’d likely have spoken out. I simply went to class, took notes, studied for exams and left campus to head back to my office or home when the day was over. But, seemingly out of no where, I was forced to face prejudice and hate I hadn’t experienced first-hand since high school, or, at least, my earliest days in college.

“That proctor guy is a faggot,” the boy sitting behind me said of the young male student assisting our professor that day.

I, along with about 200 other students, sat in an auditorium-style classroom awaiting our instructor and her assistant as they prepared to administer our exam.

“Who?” the boy’s friend asked.

“That guy. That faggot. He’s been staring at us since we sat down. He’s a fag,” I overheard behind me, each instance of the slur stressed, pointed and dripping with hate.

I froze. I did and said nothing. My heart began beating faster.

“Should I turn around and say something?” I asked myself. “What would I say? How would I say it?”

It didn’t turn out to be a very good exam day for me. I panicked — memories from high school bullying flashing back to my head. It wasn’t until later that evening, once I was home and had related the day’s events to a friend, that I came up with what I thought could have been a witty response.

“The next time you call someone a faggot, make sure the person sitting in front of you isn’t one.”

I thought about putting it on the back of a T-shirt and wearing it the next time I had the same class. But, I decided to ignore the comment.

“I don’t need a confrontation in the middle of a class full of students,” I told myself.

I was lucky enough to be working with Campus Pride last fall when they released their landmark report, “The 2010 State of Higher Education for LGBT People.” The in-depth, first-of-its-kind study documents the experiences of some 6,000 LGBT students, faculty and staff across the nation’s institutions of higher education. Though much attention is often given to anti-LGBT bullying, harassment and discrimination in K-12 schools, and campaigns like “It Gets Better” promises good days to teens who simply “stick it out” ’til college, Campus Pride’s report drove home a sobering point: anti-LGBT harassment and prejudice doesn’t magically disappear once a student crosses the stage to receive their high school diploma.

I found myself reflected in Campus Pride’s various key findings (emphasis added):

  • One quarter (23%) of LGBQ staff, faculty, and students reported experiencing harassment (defined as any conduct that has interfered with your ability to work or learn). Almost all identified sexual identity as the basis of the harassment (83%). An even greater percentage of transgender students, faculty, & staff reported experiencing harassment (39%) with 87% identifying their gender identity/expression as the basis for the harassment. The form of the harassment experiences by transgender people was more overt and blatant.
  • One-third of LGBQ (33%) and transgender (38%) students, faculty, and staff have seriously considered leaving their institution due to the challenging climate.
  • More than half of all faculty, students, & staff hide their sexual identity (43%) or gender identity (63%) to avoid intimidation.
  • More than a third of all transgender students, faculty, & staff (43%) and 13% of LGBQ respondents feared for their physical safety. This finding was more salient for LGBQ students and for LGBQ and/or Transgender People of Color.

Why didn’t I ever say anything? What was it that scared and intimidated me so much? Shouldn’t a 25-year-old, outspoken gay man like me have had the courage to enforce my own zero tolerance attitude toward anti-gay harassment?

What happened to me in class this semester reminds me of my friend Brian Murphy’s similar challenges when dealing with families, friends and other close relationships:

I do not do that which I know I should do. She says something insulting and I let it slide. He calls me Peter’s “friend” and I don’t correct him. They make jokes which aren’t really funny and I chuckle enough to not attract attention. It seems that family, friends, and closer relationships impede the cause of justice by compromising our words and actions, by elevating relationships over rightness.

Such insecurity and uncertainty, as I can attest, isn’t limited to personal relationships. In my case, complete and perfect strangers stopped me dead in my tracks.

As my first semester back at school wraps up, I’ve determined to make a new resolution. When the fall semester rolls around and I again find myself in class, I’ll not let my inner meekness get the best of me. I’ll take a chance, gulp down a shot of courage and confront the bigotry and ignorance that will (hopefully not) drift my way.

All-in-all, though, the experience served as a mighty important personal lesson. No matter how comfortable I think I might be. No matter how accepting or welcoming an environment I think surrounds me and no matter how much I’ve nearly insulated my daily work and personal life with LGBT or LGBT-friendly people and causes, I’m never truly comfortable. There’s still an awful lot of work to do — in high schools and colleges, in neighborhoods, in states and in our country and world. Silence can’t be an option.

4

Confusion or coercion?

Anti-gay researcher and Regent University prof Mark Yarhouse is at it again. He’s released several studies and what not exploring “ex-gays” and human sexuality. His most recent release is a survey of 104 “sexual minority” youth at Christian colleges.

In a “study” of the (extremely undersampled) surveys, Yarhouse (and a host of other researchers: Stephen Stratton, Janet Dean, and Heather Brooke) find:

  • Awareness of same-sex feelings (about age 13 by 70% of the sample)
  • Confusion about same-sex feelings (age 14-15 by 71% of the sample)
  • Intimately/romantically kissed by someone of the same sex (age 17 by 34% of the sample)
  • Been fondled by someone of the same sex (age 14-15 by 42% of the sample)
  • Fondled someone of the same sex (age 14-15 by 42% of the sample)
  • Same-sex behavior to orgasm (age 16-17 by 29% of the sample)
  • Initial attribution that I am gay (age 17 by 35% of the sample)
  • Took on the label of gay (age 18 by 14% of the sample)
  • First same-sex relationship (age 18-19 by 19% of the sample)
  • First opposite-sex relationship (age 15 by 58% of the sample)

A few figures immediately jumped out at me: By age 13, 70 percent of the students said they were aware of their same-sex feelings. Seventy-one percent said they experienced “confusion” about those feelings at ages 14-15.

Continue reading this post…

In my hometown paper’s weekly religion section last Saturday, an article profiling a Florida Campus Crusade leader noted the leader’s initiative to start an HIV/AIDS outreach group with a campus LGBT student organization:

Josh Spavin knows the stereotypes about evangelical Christians — judgmental, sanctimonious, narrow-minded. He may not buy into the image, but he knows how real — and damaging — it can be.

So that’s why Spavin, a recent graduate of the University of Central Florida and an intern with the university’s chapter of Campus Crusade for Christ International, wants to start an HIV/AIDS outreach with a campus gay-lesbian group.

“Because of the way they perceive us,” Spavin, 25 said. “What we wanted to do is find common ground where we can serve along side with them…. We don’t necessarily agree with their choices, because that’s not part of our faith, but we still love them.”

Spavin will be walking a thin line — one that separates Christian charity and anti-gay proselytizing. The article doesn’t interview anyone with a campus LGBT group, but I hope they are wise enough to put into place restrictions on how Campus Crusade can approach those LGBT people with HIV/AIDS. It’d be an awful sight to see the Crusaders take this opportunity to show gay and lesbian people “the evil of their ways.” The campus gay group certainly wouldn’t want to be known as the group that enabled it.

Despite my skepticism, I wish Spavin the best of luck. Maybe he will change something. Maybe he’ll learn real life lessons he’s never had the chance to know before.

0

O’ Here’s to Wake Forest!

Wake Forest player Jeff Teague reacts when a foul is called against him. Photo Credit: Winston-Salem Journal Lauren Carroll

Wake Forest player Jeff Teague reacts when a foul is called against him. Photo Credit: Winston-Salem Journal Lauren Carroll

I’m not much of a sports guy. I’m sure that isn’t hard to see.

But when it comes to Wake Forest and UNC, I at least take pride in knowing they’re doing well. I had long wanted to attend Wake Forest University, am a member of Wake Forest Baptist Church and Wake Forest is in my hometown of Winston-Salem. And any North Carolinian who says they don’t like UNC really can’t be called a North Carolinian in my opinion.

So, when UNC and Wake Forest actually have to compete against each other in a game, I just wait to the end to choose who I should have been rooting for from the beginning.

GO WAKE FOREST!

The two schools played each other last night in front of what The Winston-Salem Journal says was the largest crowd ever at Winston’s Lawrence Joel Memorial Coliseum. The final score was 92 to 89. So close, Tar Heels, so close.

2

Performing live: ‘acts’ of homosexuality

Students at Murray State University, the “public ivy university” of Kentucky, held a truly unique event recently.

In the campus “free speech zones” (something that’s likely totally unconstitutional, by the way), students involved with the campus’ LGBT organization hung out, read stories and chilled with friends during an event dubbed “Live Homosexual Acts.”

On Friday, members of the Murray State Alliance performed live homosexual acts on campus in the Free Speech Zone. Many students were shocked, but not necessarily as the name the event implies.

Students performed acts such as reading, studying and hanging out to raise awareness about the lifestyle of gay members of the Murray State campus.

Chris Morehead, junior from Paducah, Ky., checked out Friday’s event after hearing about it through a Facebook message. He said the event was sort of ironic because the name of the event is shocking, but the activities are normal.

Morehead, who is gay, said while hanging out at the event he was pleased to see several of his straight friends were comfortable enough to stop and speak to him. He said he also had friends who walked by and waved but did not stop.

More from the Murray State News (h/t PageOneQ)

0

Church to gays: You’re not welcome here

LGBT and straight ally youth traveling with the 2008 Soulforce Equality Ride were turned away from the Jackseon, Tenn., First Baptist Church on Tuesday night.

Attempting to attend and listen to a public concert showcased by students at the private, Christian school, Union University, the Riders were told by police and the pastor of First Baptist that they were not welcome.

“I was shocked that a church would prevent us from coming to a concert, especially when we had been invited by some of the performers. It was painful and disheartening to see that a Christ-centered community would not even allow us to enter its doors,” Nick Savelli, an Equality Rider from Tampa, Fla., said in a press release.

As Riders tried to stand vigil on a public sidewalk in front of the church after being denied entry, Jackson, Tenn., police approached them and threatened them with arrest. They moved to a patch of grass nearby, where they were allowed to stay.

Continue reading this post…

In a campaign modeled after the 2006 Soulforce Right to Serve Campaign (I was the Greensboro City Organizer for the Soulforce action), students from Harvard University have set out upon their journey toward creating discussion and bringing attention to the discriminatory “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” gay ban of the U.S. Military.

They’ve already hit their first of four stops. On May 24, one youth attempted to enlist in the Army as an openly gay American. When he was turned away, others in the group sat in until police arrived.

Video below:

The group’s next stops will be in Portland, Maine; New York City; and Washington, D.C.

Learn More:
Harvard Right to Serve
“Touring To Protest ‘”Don’t Ask'” Harvard Crimson May 22, 2008
InterstateQ’s Soulforce page

Soulforce Q, in partnership with SoulforceNYC, PlanetOut/Gay.com and Young People For, presents an exclusive benefit concert for the 2008 Equality Ride, which will take 20-some young adults to Southern Christian colleges and universities that discriminate against LGBT students and faculty.

Award-winning recording artist Ari Gold will perform with special guests including Anthony Rapp from the original Broadway cast and the motion picture Rent, fashion designer Jack Mackenroth from the Bravo series Project Runway, and Emmy award-winning comedienne Judy Gold, creator of 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother.

Tickets are $25 and can be purchased online at www.soulforce.org/concert.

arigoldconcert

The chair of the Michigan State University Young Americans for Freedom chapter, the first student group nationwide to receive status as a hate group from the Southern Poverty Law Center, has new leadership this today.

Kyle Bristow, who has proven to be quite controversial in local and state politics there, has resigned as chair of the group after a year and a half at the helm, according to Todd Heywood at YAFWatch. Replacing Bristow will be Matt Ogonowski and Eric Thieleman.

Many InterstateQ.com readers may remember Bristow’s name from the 2007 dust up over Tyler Whitney, the young conservative (also involved in the college hate group) blasted after his coming out. In June 2007, I posted about Bristow and his comments on LGBT people.

More after the jump…

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In the fall of 2006, I followed closely the debate over a proposed LGBT student center at N.C. State University in Raleigh. The sheer amount of bigotry, prejudice and ignorance exposed during that time was astonishing.

The university’s campus paper, The Technician, reports that the LGBT center has now had its official opening. Now, almost a year and a half after the proposal for the center first surfaced, the rabid-like nature of anti-gay and prejudiced students hasn’t toned down a bit.

A comment at The Technician story (emphasis added):

I may be “tolerant” of gay and lesbian lifestyles. If nothing else behavior between consenting adults is one’s own business and supposedly there is some biological explanation to homosexuality. However, i have a major problem with transgender people. I found out a guy i went to high school with changed himself into a girl and I nearly puked. Perhaps there is some gay gene in a dude that makes him like other dudes. There is nothing natural, however, into installing female sexual organs and undergoing hormone therapy. My worst nightmare is going to the bar and meeting someone that looks like any other chick. Seems cool then while hooking up or later on I find out this person used to be a dude. I would seriously beat the shit out of that she-dude.

If some gay dude hits on me i can tell him to go away. Situation is different if they are sneaking under the radar as a chick that used to be a dude. NOT COOL

And another, although not as violent:

If you want to be gay take it in the poop chute all you like I do not care. Or if you are a chick that wants to make your girlfriend your life partner go right ahead. What is the rationale, however, for wasting student fees $$$ on a LBGT center for a place for a small minority of students to hang out and to spread pro-LBGT education.

If you want somewhere to hang out go to legends please don’t waste my fees on this, unless i can start a heterosexual center at NCSU.

And, some sanity:

That’s where you’ve got it all wrong “bro” its not about affirmative action or feeling like I or any of us deserve special treatment. It’s about getting the same treatment everyone else gets, just somewhere that can give it that understands, and about trying to teach asshats like you to understand so we don’t have to put up with the kind of childish crap you are spewing here day after day and live our lives as something other than second class citizens. Get a clue and think about someone other than yourself for once.

I guess the only good news is that the LGBT center is open. It’ll face some difficulties, I’m sure, in its first few months of operation. With N.C. State’s history of bigotry (an effigy of a gay student was hanged on campus once), I wouldn’t be surprised if the center if vandalized or patrons are harassed going in or out.

Also, a new comment was made on one of those old “N.C. State rears its ugly anti-gay face” posts:

I am against the LGBT center, I am an ncsu student. Do I hate gay people? No.

I am against the center because my money goes to pay for part of it, and I am heterosexual. I read in the Technician (ncsu student newspaper) that the center has barely gotten any use. And really, what do gay people need a center for? There is no heterosexual center.

Again, don’t label me as a hater of gay people, but we are all supposed to be EQUALS, and by creating this center that puts and end to that. I wouldn’t mind if a gay person built and financially supported the center by themself, I could care less, but for me to have to pay for part of it?

Since I have written a lot I will summarize my points, showing why I am against the LGBT center.

-The center is FOR homos, and I am straight. Why do I need to pay for it?

-What is the point of a “center”?

-The center isnt being used according to Technician

-Having a homo-center kinda takes away from the equal treatment…

-Also, ofcourse, I do not understand why people are gay, it is disgusting and unnatural, that being said gay people can do whatever they want and I dont hate them, I just dont want to have to pay for their center, they can make their own out of their money.

I wrote this post because I felt like venting, I didnt join the facebook group because I felt if people saw I joined that they would think I hate homo people, which is not the case.

My response:

Cameron, you don’t hate gay people? I guess that’s why you use pejorative terms like “homo” and “homo-center” and say, “it is disgusting and unnatural.”

Okay, so maybe you don’t really hate us, but you certainly don’t think we’re equal to you and you certainly aren’t giving us our full dignity and human worth.

It boggles my mind that straight people say they are the ones being discriminated against when services are created to help minorities who continued to be discriminated against in almost every area of their life.