BY ALEX EDWARDS
Published February 21, 2013
The campus climate for LGBTQ individuals is anything but great. This may be surprising given that the University prides itself in offering a welcoming environment for everyone. After all, Michigan houses the first-of-its-kind LGBTQ community center, recently implemented gender-inclusive housing options and supported its student body president when faced with nefarious bigotry. Yet LGBTQ individuals are far less welcomed on campus today than our formal institutions, traditions and anecdotes suggest.
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I returned to Ann Arbor only weeks ago after spending three years in London and Washington, D.C. Since returning, I’ve encountered more men who have sex with men but outwardly reject being labeled “gay” than in all my previous 36 months spent elsewhere. It is the same for the number of times I’ve heard “fag” hurled as a pejorative. On two occasions — admittedly, both at bars after 1 a.m. — I’ve been on the receiving end of hate speech.
Rather than a prevalence of prejudice and negative stereotyping among just a few students, these experiences taken together underscore an active culture of discrimination. Often masked, and varyingly resonate, it’s a real and perverse reality.
Not convinced? Look no further than a recent Daily article in which an anonymous male senior detailed the “secret” hook-up culture among closeted men on campus. Continue to laugh when your friends use negative epithets, the author suggests. Endure the antiquated, intolerant views of your politics, religion and parents. Coming out is hard, so don’t bother. Just look online for sex.
It's precisely these elements — overt prejudice, internalization of guilt and acceptance of the status quo — that fashion LGBTQ inferiority on campus. Oppression, acquiescence and more oppression. It’s a dynamic culture that we — gay and straight alike — continue to reproduce. And, more importantly, one that we can change.
The gay struggle is unique in its individual effect — the intrinsic power of LGBTQ people to change perceptions and thereby create change. Among historical struggles for equality, this powerful role of the individual is the exception, rather than the rule. Just try to imagine the Civil Rights Movement if African Americans fought oppression by convincing whites of their individual merit, rather than through a collective struggle against racism.
Not so with gays. Poll after poll shows the close link between increasing acceptance for LGBTQ rights with the percent of individuals who know someone who identifies as gay. It’s surprisingly simple. Coming out diminishes prejudice and advances equality. It breaks the circle of intolerance.
Focusing on the incredible power of LGBTQ individuals to effect change is just that. It neither places them at greater fault for continued injustice, nor minimalizes the complexity surrounding the coming out process.
Is it hard? Of course. You must be prepared for some to think less of them, but you must also have the strength to realize that these people don’t matter. I’m the first to admit that fear of “being outed” pervaded many of my formative years.
Is coming out personally liberating? Absolutely. In fact, there are few things greater than the euphoria of finally being free with yourself, your family and your friends.
More importantly, is it transformational? Incredibly so. When I came out to my closest group of high school friends, whom can only be described as bro-er than bro, not only did our relationships strengthen, but they themselves also changed. They invested in my experience as a gay man, paying particular interest to the struggles I faced. They consciously made efforts to rid anti-gay slurs from their rhetoric. They called out prejudice where it manifested in their circles. Two even joined me in canvassing for equal marriage.
Not all transformations will be of this type. Few may change their views on equal rights; even fewer will hit the pavement for equality. But, in the words of Harvey Milk, once people realize “that (gay and lesbians) are indeed their children, that we are indeed everywhere — every lie, every myth, every innuendo will be destroyed once and for all.”
So, to every openly homophobic bigot, for whom no amount of knowledge or familiarity will lessen his or her prejudice: an unapologetic fuck you.
To the frat star, who after hooking up last weekend called me a goddamn queer, the faceless Grindr torso, the guilt-ridden bisexual, the closeted B-school student, biology major and aspiring engineer, who in their silence legitimize the notion that being gay is shame-worthy: please, please come out.
Turn inward and accept yourself; you will not outgrow it or evolve in any other direction. Talk to a friend; talk to anyone. Take your time; do it on your own terms. But make sure to do it.