Queer News On Campus [QNOC] Articles Digest
For the week ending 2009.12.27
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
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1. Inside Higher Ed - A Bathroom of Her Own
2. Inside Higher Ed - Quick Takes: Yale Criticized for Worries Over 'Sissies' Shirt
3. Los Angeles Times - What's at stake in the UC Hastings-Christian Legal Society case
4. The Telegraph Herald - UW-P introduces 3 classes on gay issues
5. The Jerusalem Post - YU holds discussion on homosexuality
1. Inside Higher Ed, December 21, 2009
1320 18th Street NW, 5th Floor, Washington, D.C. 20036
A Bathroom of Her Own
By Scott Jaschik
The coed college bathroom, like the coed college dormitory, is so common (at least in some parts of the country) that it inspires crude comedy sketches, advice columns and complaints.
At least one student who doesn't think bathrooms should be shared between male and female students is fighting back. A new lawsuit by a student at Green Mountain College charges that Vermont officials (and those in other states) have an obligation to make sure that all public buildings need to have separate bathrooms for men and women.
Jennifer Weiler, the freshman who sued, says that Green Mountain housed her in a facility where only shared bathrooms were available. When she complained, the suit says, the college designated a bathroom in her dormitory as a women's bathroom, but did nothing when male students went right on using it.
Ron Weiler, Jennifer's father, said in an interview that his daughter had no idea when enrolling that the bathrooms were shared by men and women. He said that the bathrooms feature showers with curtains, and toilets in stalls. But he said that while the female students generally disrobe and towel themselves behind the shower curtains, many male students do not, nor do the male students necessarily shut the stall doors.
"The men just disrobe in the middle of the room," Weiler said, and women shouldn't have to see that.
Weiler said that state building codes generally require public buildings -- a category that would include dormitories -- to have both men's and women's facilities. And Weiler said he complained to the college, to state officials, and to others before suing the state to compel enforcement of building codes. "What we have is that it's seen as politically incorrect to interfere with what goes on on college campuses," Weiler said.
He added that he has no problem with a college opting to have some coed bathrooms, as long as there are single-sex facilities readily available throughout any residential facilities.
Vermont and college officials couldn't be reached for comment, and the suit indicates that the state has asserted that it is not responsible for determining the bathroom breakdown at colleges. But Weiler noted that the issue has come up elsewhere and he predicted that more people might raise protests about coed bathrooms.
Bathroom Politics in Higher Ed
The suit in Vermont represents the latest twist in the politics of bathrooms in higher education. Of late, the big push has been by transgender students, who have urged the creation of coed bathrooms or of individual bathrooms, where one does not need to designate oneself in a traditional male/female dichotomy to use the facilities. But many colleges -- outside of institutions where religious or local political traditions would frown on such a move -- have had coed bathrooms for years. In part this has been a matter of convenience, as colleges that used to have strict gender separation in residence halls, with one large bathroom to a floor, have modified bathroom policies as they became open to coeducational floors.
The issue has been debated periodically at Williams College, courtesy of Wendy Shalit, an alumna who launched her career as a pundit and an advocate for sexual "modesty" with an essay in Commentary, later reprinted for a much larger audience in Reader's Digest, in which she criticized the college's coed bathrooms and linked them to the decline of traditional dating.
Shalit, in comments similar to those of Weiler's suit, says that it wasn't her own body that led her to complain but the forced closeness to others. "When I objected, I was told by my fellow students that I 'must not be comfortable with [my] body.' Frankly, I didn’t get that, because I was fine with my body; it was their bodies in such close proximity to mine that I wasn’t thrilled about," she wrote. In an interview with the Independent Women's Forum, Shalit said that while she was mocked for expressing these views, she was thanked privately by many students who told her that they agreed, but didn't want to be labeled as prudes.
A spokesman for Williams said that changes at Williams over the years have had "the result, though not the purpose," of placing more first-year students in buildings with separate men's and women's bathrooms than was the case previously (when Shalit raised the issue).
But one of the practices Shalit criticized -- letting students on a given floor decide whether to make the bathrooms coed -- remains. "It's still the case that students organize dorm life and in some situations, over the course of the year, students determine that the cost of walking to the bathroom designated for their sex, though close by adult standards, exceeds the benefit," he said.
James Baumann, director of communications for the Association of College and University Housing Officers-International, said that there are no national data on the percentage of colleges that have coed bathrooms. But he said that "it grows in its commonality each year."
Joey McNamara, national chair of the National Association of College and University Residence Halls, which represents students who live in the halls, said that bathroom issues have come up for the group primarily when planning conferences. Some members don't want to meet at campuses that have strictly male and female bathrooms, he said.
McNamara, a student at Lynn University, said he has only experienced single-sex bathrooms and that he has sympathy for Weiler. "I think privacy needs to be allowed," he said.
Of course, at many campuses with coed bathrooms, the concerns tend to come from parents and prospective students -- while the realities of coed bathrooms are sufficiently mundane that everyone seems to get used to the situation. Michael Snively, one of the students who blogs for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology admissions office, wrote on his blog that he is constantly asked to write about the issue or to answer questions about this topic during campus tours.
The post mocks the excessive interest in bathrooms, noting there are four things about which to be certain: "1) The bathrooms are coed. 2) The bathrooms do not have locks on them. 3) Yes, two people may very well be showering in the same bathroom at the same time. 4) Nobody cares. That's right guys, if you get into MIT there's a high likelihood that you'll get to stand 6 inches away from a naked senior on just your first or second day here! That goes for you too ladies, naked guys standing just 6 inches away! Oo la la!"
Snively's discussion of the topic -- including authentic, G-rated photographs -- discusses how the bathrooms are set up and offers key rules. (Knocking is important). And comments posted suggest that many MIT students get questions from their family members about the topic, and chuckle at the interest.
The article concludes: "From my experience, there are so many things at MIT that are important, difficult, and take adjusting to, worrying about bathrooms just isn't that critical. We're grown ups now, just be civil and polite and everybody gets along alright. You may not be used to having to share a bathroom with a girl or a guy, but you'll find that very little changes (except the length of the hair you find in the shower), so don't sweat the small stuff and worry more about, well, anything, more than bathrooms at MIT."
2. Inside Higher Ed, December 22, 2009
1320 18th Street NW, 5th Floor, Washington, D.C. 20036
Yale Criticized for Worries Over 'Sissies' Shirt
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has written to Yale University to protest pressure on a student group to change a T-shirt designed to mock Harvard University by quoting F. Scott Fitzgerald's analysis that "I think of all Harvard men as sissies." Concern that forms of "sissy" are insulting to gay people and others led the student group to change plans, although FIRE maintains that university officials strongly encouraged the move, in ways that may have squelched free speech. FIRE maintains that the term "sissy" long ago stopped being strictly an anti-gay slur, and now is just another way to say "wimp." Yale has yet to respond to the letter.
3. Los Angeles Times, December 21, 2009
202 West 1st Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012
What's at stake in the UC Hastings-Christian Legal Society case
By Shannon Price Minter and Christopher F. Stoll
We represent Outlaw, the UC Hastings College of the Law's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students group, in the case brought against Hastings by the Christian Legal Society (CLS). The Christian group argues that Hastings' nondiscrimination policy violates 1st Amendment rights to the extent that it prohibits officially recognized student groups from discriminating against prospective members on the basis of religion or sexual orientation. The Times' Dec. 16 editorial supporting CLS' case before the U.S. Supreme Court fails to grasp the implications of what a ruling in favor of the Christian group would mean. Stating the issues clearly and accurately is all the more important because this case has enormous implications for the future of anti-discrimination laws that reach far beyond the intersection of religion and LGBT rights.
The Times asserts that CLS has a strong argument that it is being targeted for its beliefs rather than its conduct. That is not the case. The Hastings policy does not restrict in any way the beliefs that an official student organization may espouse. All that the policy requires is that any officially recognized student group must be open and accessible to all students. The Women's Law Assn., for example, must admit men, which it does. Likewise, the Black Law Students Assn. admits white students, and Outlaw is open to heterosexual students.
The fact that Hastings' nondiscrimination policy applies equally to all clubs without regard to viewpoint or subject matter of the club also distinguishes it from the 1995 Supreme Court decision to which The Times' editorial refers. In that case, a public university declined to provide official recognition and resources to a student newspaper because the paper was written from a religious viewpoint. Hastings' policy does not prevent official student organizations from holding or expressing any view, religious or otherwise. A variety of religious groups have existed at Hastings for many years. All of them comply with the nondiscrimination policy -- except CLS.
Nothing about CLS' 1st Amendment freedom-of-association argument would limit which clubs could be exempt from Hastings' nondiscrimination policies. The 1st Amendment right CLS seeks would apply equally to a club that wished to discriminate for political or philosophical reasons, or simply out of animosity. To accept CLS' argument would mean, for example, that a white supremacist student organization would possess a constitutional right to obtain official recognition and eligibility for university funding while maintaining a membership policy that excludes African Americans, Jews and Roman Catholics. A ruling in CLS' favor could force universities to choose between being unable to enforce any sort of anti-discrimination rule against any student club or (more likely) ending all university support for any type of club. Is that what The Times wants?
Finally, as attorneys defending the rights of LGBT people nationally, we feel compelled to address The Times' contention that a group does not discriminate based on sexual orientation when it limits its membership to people who agree not to engage in same-sex relationships. This canard has been rejected by courts time and again, most famously by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in her opinion in Lawrence vs. Texas, the 2003 case that ruled a law prohibiting sodomy only between same-sex partners was unconstitutional. She wrote: "While it is true that the law applies only to conduct, the conduct targeted by this law is conduct that is closely correlated with being homosexual. Under such circumstances, [the] law is targeted at more than conduct. It is instead directed toward gay persons as a class."
We couldn't have put it better.
Shannon Price Minter is legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Christopher F. Stoll is the organization's senior pro-bono attorney.
4. The Telegraph Herald, December 22, 2009
801 Bluff Street, P.O. Box 688, Dubuque, IA 52004-0688
UW-P introduces 3 classes on gay issues
University of Wisconsin-Platteville assistant professor Keith Hale and the UW-P Humanities Department has introduced three new classes that discuss topics of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and questioning communities.
Introduction to Gay Studies, Gay and Lesbian Literature for Young Adults, both of which are offered every fall, and Gay and Lesbian Literature, offered every spring, are all boasting full enrollment.
According to the UW-P course catalog, Introduction to Gay Studies is an interdisciplinary course covering the history, culture and politics of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and questioning individuals and the community as a whole that seeks to revise existing knowledge about same-sex attraction and gender identity.
School officials cite a study that reports gay and lesbian youth are two to three times more likely to commit suicide compared to their heterosexual counterparts.
For more information about the classes, contact Hale at 608-342-1946 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
5. The Jerusalem Post, December 24, 2009
PO Box 81, Jerusalem, 91000 Israel
YU holds discussion on homosexuality
By E.B. Solomont
For a candid conversation about homosexuality to take place at a New York City university might be commonplace. Certainly, it would be expected at any one of the liberal campuses around town.
But at Yeshiva University, a school considerably more conservative than its neighbors?
Thrust into the thick of a debate over homosexuality and Orthodox Judaism in recent weeks, the school did just that on Tuesday night. Pushed to do so after an anonymous gay student wrote an article in the school paper, organizers sought to address the painful conflict of being gay in the religious world.
At the outset, Rabbi Yosef Blau, spiritual adviser at YU, stressed that the discussion was not meant to be a debate about halacha. His words were echoed by a gay student who addressed a packed audience.
"You don't have to legitimize or accept me," he said, asking instead that fellow students share the struggle of a vexing and confusing issue. "I just can't carry it alone any longer."
Organized by the YU Tolerance Club and Wurzweiler School of Social Work, the event attracted hundreds of students, graduates and faculty members. Indeed, dozens were turned away and fire officials were on hand at one point when security guards said the building had reached capacity.
Mordechai Levovitz, a graduate of YU, described the agony of keeping silent for fear of embarrassing his parents.
"I may have been a kid, but I wasn't stupid," he said.
At age 10, he confessed to a camp counselor that he liked boys and was promptly kicked out. Over the next few years, he would be kicked out of yeshiva in Israel and seek help from therapists. He was called "evil" by one of his rabbis.
But nothing is as painful as ignoring the issue, Levovitz said.
"It's not the people who yell 'faggot,'" he said. "It's the silencing."
Today, he participates in a group called JQ Youth, a 300-member group of gay youth who grew up in the yeshiva world.
"We're not alone," he said. "Nobody has to be alone."
Dr. David Pelcovitz, a professor of education and psychology at YU who took part in the panel, said Tuesday night, "It's incredibly important for all of you here to understand that this was not an easy path for anyone we just heard."
But not everyone felt that way. There were rumors Tuesday night that some fliers for the event were defaced. On Facebook, where the event was publicized, some published critical comments of those who would ignore the religious prohibition of homosexuality.
Indeed, during a question and answer session, audience members sought to understand how the gay men maintained their level of observance.
"I still daven three times a day," one young man said. "Gay men and women don't have a monopoly on having issues with their frumkeit."
Why enroll at YU, given the challenges? While one alumnus admitted he consciously chose an environment that would prevent him from coming out, another said: "Being gay is not a deciding factor in every decision."
In many ways, the event signaled a change in the way YU has dealt with the issue of homosexuality facing the Orthodox Jewish world, as it finds itself in the middle of a renewed conversation on the topic.
Last year, an anonymous gay student wrote an article in Kol HaMevaser, the university's student magazine on Jewish thought, setting off spirited discussions.
Last month's anonymous essay in the newspaper, The Commentator, articulated the anguish of one closeted student.
"Our halachic worldview is imbued with true morality… However, one pressing issue facing the modern world, one which has applied uncomfortable pressure to the Orthodox world, has been shamefully swept under rug," the student wrote.
"The thought of telling my family that I am gay… is one that douses me with waves of paralyzing fear."
YU itself has a rocky history when it comes to dealing with homosexuality on its campuses. In the 1990s, the university grappled with whether to allow gay and lesbian clubs at its law school. In the past, the school has been accused of denying housing to gay couples at its medical school.
Last year, the founding of a Tolerance Club, which welcomed gay members, was simultaneously praised by some and decried as blasphemous by others.
"There is a huge difference between homosexual nature and homosexual activity," which is a clear-cut violation, Pelcovitz told the Commentator in the paper's prolific response to the anonymous gay student's essay.
While on the one hand urging students to accept any peers who are homosexual, he said to the paper, "It would be helpful if the roshei yeshiva would address the pain of those experiencing the struggle - that would help alleviate some of the silent pain of those individuals."
Indeed, a recent graduate on Tuesday night told the audience that he was completely closeted while at YU, where he was a leader in the student government.
"Can you blame me? Have you been to YU? Being closeted was survival," he said.
After graduation, he sought guidance from another religious gay man, who was still deeply closeted in his 30s.
"I didn't want to be that man," he recalled, and subsequently told his parents and friends that he is gay.
"My mom went ballistic," he said.
Every day for a month, she asked if he had been molested as a child. "I had the best childhood," he repeatedly told her.
He said some find his homosexuality perplexing: He is an avid Miami Dolphins fan, works in finance and votes Republican.
"How am I gay?" he asked. But he is.
Two years ago, not yet out of the closet, he would not have believed the forum was taking place. He earnestly thanked the audience.
"This means everything," he said.
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