Queer News On Campus [QNOC] Articles Digest
For the week ending 2009.05.17
Brought to you by the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals. http://www.lgbtcampus.org
Archives of the QNOC Digest can be found at http://queernewsoncampus.blogspot.com
Reminder: If you come across articles that should be included in the digest, please email a link to the article to email@example.com
1. The GW Hatchet – Faculty supports policy change
2. The Daily Texan - Session nears end as bills, budget still up for debate
3. Bryn Mawr Now - Junior Nicole Gervasio wins Beinecke Scholarship to fund graduate study
4. Maui News - Candidate says he has experience to lead UH
5. Gazettes.com - LGBTQI Students To Celebrate Individuality, Academics
6. The Spartan Daily - Unisex bathroom issue reaches beyond gay community
7. The Georgia Bulletin - Sample of Catholic college students favors legalizing gay marriage
8. The Advocate Online - ‘Gay-bashing’ on campus continues, according to director of diversity
9. Dallas Voice – Bi student beats the odds to move toward a bright future
10. 365 Gay - Gay - and Greek
11. Seattle Post-Intelligencer - UW sued by lesbian who says boss harassed her
1. The GW Hatchet, May 11, 2009
2140 G Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20037
Faculty supports policy change
By Matt Rist
The Faculty Senate voted unanimously Friday to include "gender identity and expression" in the University's non-discrimination policy in hopes of protecting the rights of transgender students, faculty and staff.
The resolution to include the new language into GW's Equal Employment Opportunity Policy was presented by the Joint Committee of Faculty and Students alongside a packet of information prepared by the LGBT Resource Center in support of the policy change.
"This seemingly small change to GW's EEOP will be a significant and meaningful step toward achieving our mission," LGBT Resource Center leaders wrote in the packet. "Such a change will openly and loudly declare that GW not only supports diversity, but nurtures it."
Michelle Tanney, a graduate student and member of the joint committee, said the change will aid the transgender community on campus.
"I have many friends in the LGBT community and have seen them have trouble because there was no explicit recognition for transgender students on campus," Tanney said.
Aaron Fox, coordinator for the LGBT Resource Center, said the change in policy would allow transgender students freedom in the expression of their gender.
"Gender expression is someone's outward expression of their gender, from clothing to mannerisms, to the tone in someone's voice, to the people they associate with," Fox said.
Fox added that the change will put GW in line with top-ranking universities across the US.
"All of the top 10 schools in the U.S. have language that includes gender identity or expression, only two out of the top 25 do not have it included in their policy," Fox said. "I think that GW can be in those top-tier schools, and I think that passing this resolution is one of the ways that we can step into that tier."
The resolution was passed with a technical amendment by the Faculty Senate's executive committee that slightly altered the language of the EEOP to mirror the terminology in the D.C. Human Rights Act.
"We wanted to be sure that our list in the EEOP policy is inclusive," Law School professor and Faculty Senate member Arthur Wilmarth said. "It's to make sure that our policy is fully consistent with laws."
Several members and supporters of the LGBT community attended the meeting and spoke out on behalf of the proposed changes.
Kaden Trifilio, a transgender sophomore, said the change was needed to make students and staff feel comfortable at GW.
"I remember as a freshman coming in and not being sure where I fit in," Trifilio said. "To be able to set something up to send a clear signal that GW does indeed recognize the transgender community and does want to protect that community is really important."
Another supporter of the resolution, art history professor Catherine Chandler, said the proposed changes are already in line with the current practices of the University.
"The proposal is perfectly in line with the policies and practices of the University, which do not discriminate," Chandler said. "I think that by accepting this change it puts GW in line with its peers and with what it already does on a daily basis."
2. The Daily Texan, May 13, 2009
P.O. Box D, Austin, TX 78713
Session nears end as bills, budget still up for debate
By Erin Mulvaney
As the 81st state legislative session winds down, UT is waiting to see if a list of issues concerning the University will pass through a jumble of legislation jammed on the House and Senate floors.
Many of these important issues may have to wait two years for another chance to see the floor. Others, however, could make their way to Gov. Rick Perry’s desk to be signed into law.
Though the last day of the legislative session is June 1, many deadlines in the House and Senate have already passed for certain measures. As of midnight Monday, no bills in the House can be placed on the House calendar, allowing the representatives time to debate and vote.
UT President William Powers said the bills he supports are still alive, including those involving modifications to the top 10 percent rule, funding for the University from the 2010-11 biennial budget and tuition flexibility regulations.
“I think it’s been a constructive session,” Powers said. “We have made a lot of progress. They are finally working out the budget, and the top 10 debate is still to come. We are not at the point yet where we know what is going to happen.”
Powers said he has been to the Capitol every day for the last month and that many lawmakers are receptive to his pleas on behalf of the University.
“I think the House and the Senate have got a lot of work done, and we have had a lot of constructive conversations,” he said.
Domestic partner benefits
A bill that would extend health care benefits to the partners of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender faculty and staff lost a close 5-4 vote in committee and will not make it to the House floor.
State Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, authored the bill, which had overwhelming support from UT faculty and staff.
Lynne Milburn, chairwoman of the Pride and Equity Faculty Staff Association’s Domestic Partner Benefits Committee, said she was pleased that the bill went as far as it did.
“This was the first time a bill like this was heard, and we have a way to go,” Milburn said. “But I feel encouraged that we have come this far.”
3. Bryn Mawr Now, May 13, 2009
101 North Merion Ave, Bryn Mawr PA 19010-2899
Junior Nicole Gervasio wins Beinecke Scholarship to fund graduate study
Nicole Gervasio ’10, a native of Trenton, N.J., who plans to pursue a Ph.D. in literary studies after completing her bachelor’s degree at Bryn Mawr, is one of 21 students nationwide who have been awarded the 2009 Beinecke Scholarship.
The scholarship, which is given to “young men and women of exceptional promise” to encourage and enable them to “pursue opportunities available to them and to be courageous in the selection” of a course of study, is given to students who plan to pursue graduate degrees in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Each scholarship winner receives a $4,000 payment immediately upon graduation from college and an additional $30,000 while attending graduate school.
Gervasio is a double major in English literature and the Growth and Structure of Cities Program, with concentrations in creative writing and Africana studies.
A poet and writer who edits the campus literary publication Kaleidoscope and has worked for both the Bi-Co News and the College News, Gervasio first intended to declare an independent major in creative writing, but ultimately decided that exploring other disciplines could add both depth and breadth to her perspective and enrich her authorial voice.
Gervasio credits her professors with helping her recognize her passion for literary studies as a potential vocation.
“I never would have thought graduate school was a possibility for me,” says Gervasio, who hopes to become the first member of her family to earn a Ph.D. just a few years after becoming its first college graduate. “My professors convinced me that I can afford to further my education despite being a self-financed student.”
Close contact with faculty mentors, Gervasio says, has been one of the most positive aspects of her experience at Bryn Mawr: “I have relationships with professors that I’m not sure I could have achieved elsewhere.”
Gervasio has already gotten a solid introduction to the challenges and pleasures of the sort of long-term research projects academics undertake as a Mellon-Mays Undergraduate Fellow. The Mellon-Mays program supports research by students who have demonstrated an interest in pursuing a Ph.D. in a core academic field and in eradicating racial disparities in education.
As a Mellon-Mays Fellow, Gervasio is using queer theory to examine postcolonial African literature. “I’m looking at how marginalization functions as a theme of queer sexuality in African literature,” she says. She is interested in pursuing those topics further as a graduate student.
Her research work as a Cities major “has been focused on themes of sexuality and violence in the city, mostly in a post colonial context,” she says. After doing a study of Belfast, Ireland, and Cape Town, South Africa, for a comparative-urbanism course last year, she spent last fall semester abroad in a gender-studies program at the University of Cape Town, where she did a research project on lesbian sexuality, safety and violence in Cape Town.
“How do people create safe spaces where those safe spaces don’t exist in an institutionalized way?” was the question Gervasio asked in her research. “In Cape Town, there are fewer established agencies and organizations offering services to gay and lesbian populations than there are here in Philadelphia, and the consequences of prejudice affect women of color disproportionately.”
Scholarly pursuits have hardly displaced Gervasio’s interest in creative writing. “I’m a very active creative-writing concentrator,” she says. Having taken courses in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction writing, she will graduate with more creative-writing courses than she needs to fulfill the requirements for the concentration. This summer, she plans to work as an intern in Haverford College’s Communications Office in addition to her work toward her Mellon-Mays research goals, and she envisions creative writing as a lifelong pursuit.
“I’m inclined toward an academic career—I want to become a professor and do theoretical writing—but that will give me the freedom to write creatively, too.”
Can she make time for it? As a double major with two concentrations who has written and edited for several campus publications, she’s accustomed to a tight schedule.
“I’m one of those people who thrives on being busy,” Gervasio explains. “I know how to relax, but I’m much happier when I’m constantly using my brain.”
4. Maui News, May 13, 2009
100 Mahalani Street, Wailuku, Maui, Hawaii 96793
Candidate says he has experience to lead UH
By Claudine San Nicolas
KAHULUI - University of Hawaii presidential finalist Robert J. Jones pointed to his administrative experience and excitement over the potential to make Hawaii a model of education for the nation in explaining why he should get "one of the most important positions in the state."
Jones, 57, spoke during an hourlong open forum Tuesday afternoon at Maui Community College following a similar visit from the only other finalist for the job of UH president: M.R.C. Greenwood, a longtime chancellor of the University of California-Santa Cruz, who later resigned amid controversy as provost of the University of California system.
It was Jones' first visit to Maui.
Like Greenwood, Jones was asked at the Kahului college about his comfort level and experience with political leaders, his thoughts on managing limited budgets and what he would do to promote tolerance for gays, lesbians and bisexuals on the university campuses.
As senior vice president for system administration at the University of Minnesota, Jones has direct oversight for the school's Office of Equity and Diversity.
He said he didn't see a specific office assigned to deal with similar issues here in Hawaii. "I'm raising questions about it," he said, adding he might consider instituting one, if selected for the job.
As second in command at the University of Minnesota, Jones said he worked on a regular basis with Minnesota's legislative leaders overseeing higher education, with state representatives in the area of his campuses and with the mayor of Minneapolis.
He said at one point, a gay, lesbian and bisexual alliance at the University of Minnesota was separated from the Office of Equity and Diversity, and he suggested that it be connected to address similar issues of discrimination.
"It is something I am absolutely committed to," he said.
Jones said he understands the challenges with limited budgets and went into administration during a time of cutbacks. He said one of the biggest mistakes a school can make is to focus on cuts.
He said that at Minnesota his office used guiding principles to decide how to reallocate and reinvest in areas that covered the school's strategic plan.
Jones said he would not "try to fit the University of Hawaii into the University of Minnesota," but he believed his 31 years of Minnesota experience has given him the skills to help Hawaii move forward.
His other leadership responsibilities have included oversight in coordinating the University of Minnesota's campuses, international programs, public engagement and outreach, diversity and multicultural affairs, youth and family programs, urban initiatives, planning and institutional research and information technology. He had served as a professor of agronomy and plant genetics at the University of Minnesota and is an internationally recognized authority on plant physiology.
Jones has been a visiting professor and featured speaker in North America, Europe, Asia and Africa, and from 1984 to 1994, served as an academic and scientific consultant for Archbishop Desmond Tutu's South African Education Program.
Both Greenwood's and Jones' curriculum vitae can be viewed at www.hawaii.edu/president.
The presidential advisory selection committee is seeking feedback from the public at the same Web site.
Public comments on the Web site will be accepted until 4:30 p.m. Monday.
In presenting the two top contenders, university officials said both offer "strong leadership, a strong commitment to academic values and a deep appreciation of shared governance with the faculty and the importance of building effective working relationships with elected leaders and the community."
Claudine San Nicolas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
5. Gazettes.com, May 13, 2009
5225 E. Second St, Long Beach, CA 90803
LGBTQI Students To Celebrate Individuality, Academics
By Shereen Oca
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) students at California State University, Long Beach, soon will kick off their forthcoming commencement with an additional ceremony called the Lavender Graduation.
Organizers from the Lesbian, Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Resource Center started the Lavender Graduation on campus three years ago, in order to provide LGBTQI students and their heterosexual allies with an open and safe venue to express themselves freely while celebrating individuality and academic achievement with friends and family, according to Matt Cabrera, student resource center coordinator at CSULB.
In addition, another purpose is to highlight the university as an institution in which students of various sexual orientations and ethnic, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds can find an open and safe learning environment, he said.
“In the history of CSULB, we’ve had quite a few ethnic cultural graduations from African American to Filipino to Latino,” Cabrera continued. “So, the students who wanted to bring the Lavender Graduation on campus saw that we have other great supplemental graduation celebrations focusing on ethnic identity. They wanted to establish it as an additional graduation to celebrate identity as well as ethnicity.”
Last year’s committee chose this year’s theme, “Showing Your True Colors,” to further emphasize the celebration’s objectives, Cabrera said.
“It relates on the surface with the LBGT rainbow,” he explained. “But on a deeper level, what the committee liked about that theme is that everyone has different aspects about their personality and identity. …It’s a more holistic view that showcases one’s ethnic and sexual identity and the other identities, in addition to what you see on the surface.”
This Saturday, Gerry Riposa, dean of CSULB’s College of Liberal Arts, Dr. Jeane Caveness, assistant dean of students at CSULB, and Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal will be among the featured speakers at the Lavender Graduation. About 20 students are expected to participate.
The third annual Lavender Graduation will begin at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 16, at the University Student Union Beach Auditorium. It is open to both undergraduate and graduate students. The registration fee, which includes five tickets, costs $35 per student. Additional tickets can be purchased for $1 each.
Dr. Ronni Sanlo, director of the LGBT Campus Resource Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, founded the first Lavender Graduation in 1995 at the University of Michigan.
CSULB is at 1250 Bellflower Blvd.
For more information regarding the celebration or to register, call 985-4966 or e-mail email@example.com.
6. The Spartan Daily, May 13, 2009
One Washington Square, San Jose, CA 95112-01493
Unisex bathroom issue reaches beyond gay community
By Dan Lu
Mothers with young sons or fathers with young daughters will be able to comfortably escort their small children into unisex bathrooms later this summer.
Before that happens, a presentation regarding the conversion of several restrooms on campus, to unisex restrooms, "Peeing in Peace," will take place from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the Ohlone room at the Student Union.
Common myths regarding gender-neutral bathrooms will be discussed at the presentation tomorrow, hosted by Queers Thoughtfully Interrupting Prejudice and Transgender Law Center, a San Francisco legal organization.
The event will include a panel discussion with a town hall-style question-and-answer session with three panel guests.
The panel will consist of a transgender representative, a representative from the Disability Resource Center and someone from counseling services, said Megan Thompson, a senior psychology major and chair of Queers Thoughtfully Interrupting Prejudice.
Winona Heyer-Soma, campus space and facilities planner for the planning, design, and construction department for Facilities Development and Operations at SJSU, said the department was asked to compile a list of existing and potential unisex restrooms.
"Twelve existing unisex restrooms were identified," Heyer-Soma said. "The criteria for the conversion was to indentify which restrooms were already single-fixture restrooms and could be converted most easily."
Officials from the department identified 15 restrooms that could possibly be converted to unisex - which is five percent of the approximately 280 gender-specific restrooms on campus, she said.
Thompson said the restrooms would address the needs of three important groups on campus.
The groups include transgender individuals whose safety can be threatened by using gender-specific bathrooms, parents whose childrens' gender is opposite their own, and disabled students whose assistants, of the opposite gender, face issues comfortably using gender-specific bathrooms.
Rebecca Daily, a senior English major, said she will be one of the speakers at the event and said she feels SJSU has an opportunity to support the transgendered, disabled student body and support parents with children.
"Attendees should expect information clearly presented to them as to why SJSU needs gender-neutral bathrooms," Daily said. "There will also be an open forum after the speakers."
Thompson, who will be leading the discussion, said she feels gender-neutral bathrooms are a necessity on every campus. She said she understands the common concerns regarding such a development, particularly involving women's safety, but said it is important to keep things in perspective.
"While we are not the ultimate authority on gender-neutral bathrooms," Thompson said, "Q-TIP members are aware of the significant benefits and would like to highlight those to the campus community."
As one of the hosts of the event, the Transgender Law Center works to make California a state where all citizens can freely express their gender identities by working toward ending discrimination in employment, education and healthcare, Thompson said.
"The number of bathrooms being changed is actually fairly proportionate to the number of students they will benefit," Thompson said. "I encourage everyone with any questions to come out to the event to get more questions answered."
7. The Georgia Bulletin, May 2009
740 W. Peachtree St. NW, Atlanta, GA 30308
Sample of Catholic college students favors legalizing gay marriage
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Same-sex marriage is swiftly becoming legal in the New England states, and all but one of a couple dozen Catholic college students in the Northeast interviewed by Catholic News Service said they would like to see that trend continue nationwide. "Everyone should have the right to marry the person they love, regardless of their gender," said Christopher Ward, 18, a freshman at Jesuit-run St. Peter's College in Jersey City, N.J. "It's not going to cause the world to end because two guys say 'I do.'" His comments were echoed by all of the other students who spoke to CNS, except Steve Cirronella, a 20-year-old sophomore from New York's Long Island who attends Jesuit-run Fairfield University in Connecticut. Cirronella said he has yet to decide whether he supports gay marriage. But he doesn't think anyone should call homosexuals immoral. "If you are like that, it's how you were born," said Cirronella, who has attended Catholic school throughout his education and said he has tremendous respect for Catholic teaching. "I feel strongly that God loves everyone." The U.S. Catholic bishops oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage, stating that marriage should be defined as a union between one man and one woman.
Copyright (c) Catholic News Service /U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The CNS news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed, including but not limited to such means as framing or any other digital copying or distribution method, in whole or in part without the prior written authority of Catholic News Service .
8. The Advocate Online, May 15, 2009
Mt. Hood Community College, 26000 SE Stark St., Gresham, OR 97030
‘Gay-bashing’ on campus continues, according to director of diversity
By Ron J. Rambo Jr.
Though the Associated Student Government presidential election ended last week, discrimination that reportedly occurred during campaigning against the ticket of Danielle Pannell and Rae Peres has continued, according to Peres.
Pannell and Peres contacted the Oregon Student Association (OSA) and the Oregon Student Equal Rights Alliance this week to investigate the “gay-bashing” that they say has occurred since campaigning began three weeks ago and to see what could be done about making the campus more gay-friendly.
“There is a lot of hate-speech by students,” said Pannell. “We want to find out who is doing that. I kind of feel like the fact that Rae (Peres) is gay had a lot more to do with the election itself than the real issues. Her sexuality should have never come into play.”
Peres said Wednesday that the discrimination has continued, saying that earlier in the day she went out to her car to retrieve something and was verbally assaulted by two female driving by.
“They just rolled down their window a little and yelled, ‘We didn’t vote for you because you’re gay,’ ” said Peres. “Obviously, this ticked me off. I went to Meadow (McWhorter’s) office and broke down and told her what happened. We spoke to Robert (Cox), and he took me up to Ernie Cadman’s office.” Cadman is the interim vice president for student success and enrollment management.
Peres said she and Cox, Administrative Chairperson of SAB Heather Nichelle-Peres, a representative of OSA and Elections Committee Head Jennifer Rogers all visited MHCC President John Sygielski later that day.
“Ski took us to the board room and we spoke to the deans (who were having a meeting) about how to stop this,” said Peres. “We will be getting faculty and staff involved somehow in this. We’re going to set up workshops to see what can be done to stop this.”
Peres said speech instructor Shannon Valdivia will be adding anti-discriminatory sections to her syllabi.
“Students need to understand that Ski will support all demographics and students, but will not support hate,” said Peres.
Peres said that while campaigning, she spoke to an individual who said they would not be voting for the Pannell-Peres ticket because the person “did not want the student government run by a couple of lesbians.”
Pannell, whose husband is an Iraq War veteran, thought these comments went too far.
“Whether they were really supporters of Bradley (Best) and John (King) or not is beside the point,” said Pannell. “What matters is that there are problems on campus involving this sort of thing. I’d expect this in Arkansas (where I’m from), but this is Oregon. It’s ridiculous.”
Peres said that in light of what happened during the election, she felt much less safe on campus than she ever had.
“I’m starting to question my role as director of diversity because it’s really disheartening to see and hear these things going on,” said Peres. “I wonder if what I’m doing actually matters or if it’s even being taken into consideration. I’m wondering if I see the same people everyday that said these things about me during the campaign. It makes me feel less safe.”
9. The Dallas Voice, May 14, 2009
4145 Travis, Third Floor, Dallas, Texas 75204
Bi student beats the odds to move toward a bright future
By John Wright
Jesus Montelongo started encountering anti-gay bullying at an early age, but local LGBT organizations helped him not only survive, but thrive
Jesus Montelongo still recalls vividly the day near the end of sixth grade when his class was headed on a graduation trip to the zoo.
Montelongo said he was looking forward to the trip because he’d always loved nature and animals. But shortly before the class was to leave, his teacher pulled him aside and explained that there would be no room on the bus for gays.
Instead of going on the trip, Montelongo said he was sent to a room full of unsupervised children, many of whom had been his everyday bullies since as early as the first grade. On this day, they surrounded him and hit him with books, chairs and whatever else they could find.
“That’s when I started coming home crying,” Montelongo said. “That started my suicidal thoughts and my disbelief in religion. That was a turning point in my life.”
Six years later, Montelongo is getting set for another graduation.
On May 30, he’ll walk across a stage having finished in the top 5 percent of his class at Molina High School in Southwest Dallas.
Montelongo, 18, recently accepted a scholarship to the University of Texas at Austin, where he plans to study nursing and social work beginning this fall. And Montelongo’s inspiring tale of overcoming relentless anti-gay bullying — as well as major socio-economic disadvantages — has earned him the first-ever scholarship awarded by LULAC Chapter 4871-The Dallas Rainbow Council.
LULAC 4871, the organization’s LGBT chapter in North Texas, will host a fundraiser to help pay for Montelongo’s college-related expenses on Sunday at Kaliente, with the nightclub matching all proceeds.
Jesse Garcia, president of LULAC 4871, noted that the LGBT community often doesn’t hear about anti-gay bullying until it results in a murder or suicide.
“This one actually made it,” Garcia said of Montelongo. “Rather than feeling sorry that we lost another kid, how about we celebrate one that actually made it?”
Garcia also said Montelongo’s story is a testament to the importance of LGBT organizations in North Texas.
In addition to the Dallas Rainbow Council, Montelongo has been involved with groups like Youth First Texas, where he serves as an ambassador, and the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network, where he serves as Texas’ Jump Start Student Organizer.
“Jesus is living proof that our community and our dollars are working,” Garcia said. “He is a product of all that fundraising, all that mentoring, all that volunteering.”
Indeed, Montelongo credits his turnaround to the support of LGBT groups, and especially Youth First.
Although he was harrassed for acting “feminine” for as long as he can remember, Montelong0 said he didn’t come out as bisexual until 15. He got involved with Molina High School’s Gay Straight Alliance, which he now leads, and the group’s faculty sponsor referred him to Youth First.
“That’s when I realized that there was hope for me,” Montelongo said. “I always wanted to go to college, but it wasn’t until I went to YFT that I received the motivation.”
Montelongo said he plans to stay involved with Youth First and other LGBT groups in Dallas and Austin during college, and he eventually hopes to become a counselor for a nonprofit organization that deals with LGBT youth and/or immigration.
He also said he’s grateful for the LULAC scholarship, noting that 70 percent of students at Molina High School are economically disadvantaged.
“I’m really thankful because in my school there are a lot of students who are in the same situation as me, who don’t have the same opportunity,” he said.
The fundraiser for Jesus Montelongo, recipient of LULAC 4871’s Scholarship for 2009, will be held Sunday, May 17, beginning at 10 p.m. at Kaliente, 4350 Maple Ave.
ONLINE EXTRA: Read an essay written by Jesus Montelongo about overcoming anti-gay bullying.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 15, 2009.
© Copyright by DallasVoice.com
10. 365gay.com, May 15, 2009
Gay - and Greek
By Jenny Hagel
I was late, as usual. It was the second Monday of some month in 1996. The second Monday meant we weren’t just having a regular sorority meeting, we were having a formal meeting. Which had a lot of rituals. Which I was about to interrupt.
I was a sophomore at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. The first fraternity, Phi Beta Kappa, was founded at the College in 1776, making William and Mary the birthplace of the Greek system in America. But I wasn’t thinking about that as I slunk in late to formal meeting. I was just trying not to get caught.
I rushed in dressed up, wearing my Kappa Delta pin. I took a seat in the back row and crossed my legs at the ankles, per formal meeting rules. As I did, I looked to my right and noticed two fellow sophomores, Mary and April, giggling to each other.
“What are you two laughing about?” I whispered, eager to be in on the joke. They looked at each other, turned to me and smiled that smile of people about to let you in on something really good.
“You know how they say that ten percent of people are gay?” Mary asked. “Sure,” I shrugged. I thought I’d heard that vaguely somewhere.
“There are a hundred people in this room,” April pointed out. “So. Who do you think it is?” The three of us craned our necks and looked around the room at our sisters. At the rows of girls, dressed up, wearing sorority pins, legs crossed at the ankles.
“No way,” I thought. “There is no way anyone in this room is gay.” Twelve years later, it turns out that four of the women in that room were gay.
Turns out one of them was me.
If you had asked me in 1996 if there was anything wrong with being gay, I would have emphatically replied “no.” I knew, intellectually, that there was nothing wrong with being gay. Still, it was something that people didn’t really talk about.
The late ‘90s were a unique moment in time, just after it was no longer considered okay in most circles to be openly homophobic but just before being gay started to be met with acceptance. In 1987, Eddie Murphy’s box office smash Raw opened with Murphy declaring proudly, “I hate faggots.” In 1998, Will & Grace premiered as the first network television show to include gay characters in its premise. But in that space in between there was a certain silence around gayness.
I wasn’t self aware enough as a college sophomore to understand that I might be gay. And so I felt then about gay people the way I sometimes feel now about victims of a natural disaster in a far away country. I understood in an intellectual way that they were in a difficult, complex situation, but I didn’t understand how that connected to my life.
And because gay people seemed so distant and far away, it never occurred to me that one might be in my sorority.
Twelve years later, a lot has changed for gay people in America. While, clearly, there is a long way to go toward achieving full social acceptance and civil rights, huge advancements have been made towards equality in the last decade. At a time when Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the right to marry, and protection from workplace discrimination still hang in the balance for so many gay Americans, though, why should anyone care about gays and lesbians in fraternities and sororities? Why does it matter if a gay undergraduate man is allowed to attend a toga party? Or if a young lesbian has access to all-night puffy-painting sessions?
According to the North-American Interfraternity Council, 9 million people in the U.S. and Canada are current or alumni/ae members of the Greek system. Over the course of American history, 48 percent of U.S. presidents, 42 percent of U.S. senators, 30 percent of congressional representatives and 40 percent of U.S. Supreme Court justices have been Greek. Thirty percent of Fortune 500 executives are Greek. So, even if the worst stereotypes of Greek life are to be believed, it seems that the beer bong enthusiasts of today are the decision-makers of tomorrow.
Several greek organizations created specifically for LGBT (and LGBT-friendly) members exist throughout the U.S. The largest LGBT greek organizations include Delta Lambda Phi National Fraternity, founded in 1986, and Gamma Rho Lambda National Sorority, founded in 2003.
The exact number of such organizations is difficult to determine, however, because many gay fraternities and sororities consist of only one local chapter.
In any case, whether or not gay and lesbian students feel welcomed into mainstream fraternities and sororities by today’s young people can tell us a lot about how gays and lesbians will be treated by tomorrow’s adults. And, more importantly, how they – and their rights – will be treated by our nation’s future leaders.
Apparently, I wasn’t the only gay Greek in the ‘90s who felt that lesbians and sororities didn’t mix. In 1996, while I was sneaking in late to my formal meeting, Christin Baker was pledging Zeta Tau Alpha sorority at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Initially, sorority life was a natural fit for Baker, who was active in campus activities and had student government aspirations.
“At the time that I rushed I definitely fit in,” Baker says.
When she began coming out her junior year, though, Baker also began pulling away from her sisters. “I pretty much stopped going to a lot of sorority things,” she recalls. “I would say, ‘Oh, I’m busy doing this that and the other.’ But really…I was slowly weaning myself away.”
Why was Baker separating herself from her sorority? Because, while she doesn’t remember encountering any “overt anti-lesbian sentiment” in her sorority, Baker understood that the two worlds weren’t meant to intersect.
“You didn’t want anyone in your sorority to be gay,” she remembers. “If you had someone who was out that would be very, very bad. You probably would have kicked them out.” Baker recalls, “There were people who were out on campus, but not in a fraternity or sorority.”
Baker’s experience was less overt than that of Shane Windmeyer. When Windmeyer joined Phi Delta Theta at Emporia State University in Emporia, Kansas in 1992 he was out to himself, but not to his brothers. As an underclassman, he remembers encountering homophobic comments and behavior from his fraternity brothers.
“It was the early nineties and the only thing you heard about gay people tended to be negative….so the environment of the fraternity house very much reflected the more conservative element of our society [with] homophobic jokes and harassment,” Windmeyer says. “One guy,” he remembers, “wore a shirt that said, ‘Silly faggot, dicks are for chicks.’”
Baker and Windmeyer’s experiences are not unique. A study conducted by Douglas Case in 1996 on the experiences of LGBT members of fraternities and sororities found that, “the heterocentric nature of Greek social activities, homophobic attitudes within organizations and the perceived need to hide their sexual orientation detracted from the Greek experience for many LGBT students.”
Despite the homophobic attitudes present in the Phi Delta Theta house, Windmeyer threw himself into his chapter. He held several offices, including Vice President of the fraternity.
“I think in my head I was trying to prove through my leadership in the house that I was still a good brother,” he speculates. “Like, if I help our philanthropy raise more money then somehow maybe me being gay won’t make a difference when I do come out.”
When Windmeyer finally came out his junior year, he says it was a learning experience for many of his brothers. “They never really thought about those words, those jokes affecting someone they cared about,” he says.
That experience lead Windmeyer to dedicate his professional life to studying sexual orientation as it pertains to the fraternity/sorority experience. He has written several books on the experiences of gays and lesbians in Greek organizations and travels to college campuses around the country, speaking to fraternities and sororities about what they can do to be more welcoming to gay and lesbian members.
Windmeyer says that, when it comes to being gay and Greek, “things have changed substantially over the last ten years.” His first speaking engagement was in 1998 at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado shortly after a fraternity and sorority mounted a scarecrow on their homecoming float with the word “fag” emblazoned on its face. At that same moment, a few miles away, Matthew Shepherd lay dying in a Fort Collins hospital from wounds sustained during a violent hate crime.
Ten years later, Windmeyer says that, “the younger generation today, the 16-28 year-olds, are more progressive….They’re much more open and accepting of gay people.”
In 1995, Windmeyer founded the Lambda 10 Project, a nonprofit clearinghouse dedicated to heightening awareness of issues that pertain to LGBT students in fraternities and sororities. In November 2008 the Lambda 10 Project hosted the Out & Greek Conference at DePaul University in Chicago – the first ever conference dedicated to sharing strategies for creating LGBT-inclusive fraternities and sororities.
While Windmeyer has been speaking and writing about LGBT issues in Greek life for years, he says, “This conference never would have been possible back in the mid nineties. It never would have been possible, I really don’t think, up until about two or three years ago….You just wouldn’t have been able to get people there.”
The opening session of the Out & Greek Conference, a panel entitled “LGBT Issues in the Greek System,” is attended by over fifty gay fraternity and sorority members from campuses across the country. Not bad, considering the panel is held at 9:30am. Also present are administrators and Greek advisors from a variety of universities. They are there to swap stories and exchange strategies for making Greek organizations on their campuses more accepting.
The session has the feel of a fraternity or sorority meeting. When a panelist makes a particularly good point, the room erupts in snaps of agreement. Several attendees wear Greek letters. Others wear the T-shirt handed out to participants that reads “Out & Greek Conference.” Because, let’s face it, it wouldn’t be a Greek event without a custom T-shirt.
As the panel of gay fraternity brothers and sorority sisters relate their positive experiences in the Greek system, and as audience members join the conversation, what impresses me most is that the question at hand is not whether to be gay and Greek. Unlike Baker’s experience at MTSU, or mine at William and Mary, it is assumed that there are gay people in Greek organizations. Instead, the conversation centers on how to ensure that gay Greeks get the acceptance and respect that everyone in the room – gay and straight – agrees they deserve.
Wil Bowen and Gary Warren, two Tau Kappa Epsilon brothers attending the conference from Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Michigan, insist that being gay and Greek just isn’t a big deal.
“Most of the strong fraternities on campus have an out member,” Bowen says. “And not just people who come out after they’re members.”
“No one really cares if you’re gay on campus,” Warren ads, wearing a pastel pink T-shirt with stitched-on TKE letters. “They’re busy. They have jobs, they’re going to school. They don’t have time to hate you.”
The increased acceptance of gays and lesbians in Greek life hasn’t just been noticed by academics like Windmeyer, or by members of local fraternity and sorority chapters. In 2007, ABC Family premiered the hour-long comedy series Greek, about a group of college students who are members of the Greek system. One of the show’s characters, a fraternity brother named Calvin, is gay.
Patrick Sean Smith, the show’s Creator and Executive Producer, was motivated to create Calvin by a desire to increase the visibility of gay characters on television. Smith, who is openly gay, believes that, “having that perspective and having that voice in television is important to a group fighting marginalization.”
But the writers of Greek don’t see Calvin’s sexual orientation as his central identifying characteristic. When developing storylines for Calvin, Smith says, “I don’t want to limit him to only gay issues because our point with Calvin is that it’s only part of him.”
This approach reflects conversations Smith and his writing staff have had with students who are currently active in the Greek system.
“What I came to find when we were researching the Millennials is that it’s not an issue,” he says. “It’s just not.”
Greek Staff Writer Matt Whitney is also openly gay and was a member of Pi Kappa Phi fraternity at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Whitney, who graduated from UC Boulder in 1999, was not out in college and remembers a fraternity experience that was less than gay-friendly. “If I had come out in my fraternity who knows what the reaction would have been,” he wonders.
Like Smith, Whitney has spoken with current undergraduates, and he has noticed a difference since he was in college. “It seems, from the people that we’ve talked to who are in fraternities now, that it’s much more accepted to be out and in a fraternity,” he says. “We’ve progressed so much in the last decade.”
This acceptance of gay men and women in the Greek system affects how Greek’s writers approach Calvin.
“We just treat him like every other character,” says Co-Executive Producer Mark Stegemann. When writing story lines for Calvin, Stegemann says, “I never consider it like, ‘How would a gay guy say this?’ It’s just, ‘How would Calvin deal with this?’”
So, academic observations aside, what is it actually like to be gay and Greek these days?
Thor Rudebeck is a senior at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois and a member of Theta Chi fraternity. Rudebeck says that when he accepted his bid, his brothers had no reaction to having a gay member in the fraternity. “It was never an issue,” Rudebeck recalls. “I’ve never had a problem talking about it or being out. I’ve never ever felt like I should hide it from anybody in my fraternity.”
In fact, Rudebeck, who is the only gay man in his chapter, says he’s not even really conscious of the difference in sexual orientation between himself and his brothers: “I don’t think of myself as being a gay person in a fraternity,” he says.
Rudebeck added that he feels totally supported by his Theta Chi brothers. “It’s nice to know that there are people who really, really have my back,” he says.
That’s exactly the kind of experience that author Windmeyer is hoping for. Windmeyer says he hopes his work on college campuses will not only impact the lives of gay and lesbian members of Greek life, but of straight members as well.
“I’m working for a tomorrow where you can…be who you are without fear of being beaten up because there are straight people who learned in college that that was wrong and that they’re not going to tolerate that,” he says. “If we can get tomorrow’s leaders in fraternities and sororities today to…be allies to LGBT people, then we’re changing the hearts and minds of tomorrow.”
At the end of each school year, seniors in my sorority embarked on what we called Senior Clue Week. Graduating seniors followed a trail of clues that lead them around campus to bars, fraternity houses, and dorm rooms where various girly drinks awaited them. My senior year was no different.
One night, in the spring of 1998, my sisters and I set out to follow a series of clues that led us to lemon drops at the Sig Ep house, peppermint patty shots at Sigma Chi, and…yeah, I’m not going to lie. That’s about all I can remember. I think at one point I played a ukulele. The rest of the drinking is a blur.
What is not blurry is the end of the evening. As we stumbled back to the sorority house one of my sisters announced that we should all kiss each other. While it would be a few more years before I fully identified as a lesbian, I knew enough by senior year to be nervous about this proposition. I declined to participate, worried that something about the way I kissed might accidentally convey some kind of sincere interest in kissing women. My friends teased me about my unwillingness to engage, but I feigned prudishness and refused to kiss any of them.
I worried I might kiss a bit too eagerly and reveal myself.
Ten years later, Rudebeck says he would have no qualms about bringing a boyfriend to a Theta Chi formal. And if he doesn’t happen to have a boyfriend? Well, then he feels totally comfortable dancing with a guy at fraternity party. Even a party where guys from other fraternities besides his own are present.
And if anyone has a problem with that? “A couple of [my brothers] have said that if anyone bothers me they’ll kick their ass,” Rudebeck says.
If that’s not brotherhood, I don’t know what is.
11. Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 15, 2009
101 Elliott Ave. W., Seattle, WA 98119
UW sued by lesbian who says boss harassed her
By Vanessa Ho
Last month, an Army reservist employed at the University of Washington sued the school, saying he was unfairly demoted after he was deployed to Iraq in 2006. The school said the man's demotion had nothing to do with his military service, but offered no details.
On Friday, those details emerged, but not from the UW. They came in the form of a second lawsuit filed against the school, from a woman who had worked for the reservist.
She said her boss had intimidated and harassed her and discriminated against her because she is gay. Court records show that the reservist's demotion stemmed from complaints by the woman and co-workers.
"On a good day, you would come to work and pray to God that he would be angry with somebody else," said Debra Loeffelholz, a program manager at the UW's asbestos department. "When he left for Iraq, everyone had a huge sigh of relief."
Although the school demoted the reservist, James Lukehart, and transferred him to another building, Loeffelholz contends it wasn't enough. Her attorney, Michael Withey, says the school should compensate her for the three-year hostile work environment she suffered under Lukehart.
"The University of Washington put a man in a position of control who engaged in a campaign of intimidation," Withey said. "They basically agree with her. They should compensate her."
A spokesman for the UW said he could not comment on the complaint, because the school hadn't received it. Lukehart's attorney, Sidney Strong, also said he had not seen the complaint and could not comment on it.
In April, Lukehart sued the school, saying he had been harassed and discriminated against for serving in Iraq. He said some of his coworkers had told him he would be "engaging in immoral, if not illegal, action" if he went to war. He shipped out as ordered and helped build a water-treatment plant in Iraq.
An electrician at UW since 1992, Lukehart returned in 2007 to a demotion from his job as a maintenance manager. It had followed an investigation into misconduct allegations.
In Loeffeholz' complaint, she said her boss had asked her soon after she was hired if she was gay. When she said yes, he said, "I'm okay with that, I just don't want you to flaunt it. I don't want any of that in my face," Loeffelholz recalled.
Her complaint, filed in King County Superior Court, names both the UW and Lukehart.
She said he berated subordinates in meetings, often alluded to his expertise in firearms and "killing people," and unnerved her with personal calls to her home at night. Loeffelholz said he told co-workers that she was gay and overweight, and that he wanted her fired.
A UW document attached in the court filings shows that senior management found that Lukehart had intimidated and manipulated his staff, managed by "espionage," and shared inappropriate things with his workers. They found that he intimidate workers by alluding to the FBI, the Pentagon, and "shock and awe."
They recommended that he be fired or demoted.
Vanessa Ho can be reached at 206-448-8003 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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