On the whole, this year’s Pride Week was a success. There were people at all of our events. We managed to get a wide array of speakers who facilitated some of the best conversations about gender and sexual orientation that I’ve ever had. Most importantly, we created spaces for people to be themselves and be part of a supportive community. However, I cannot escape the nagging feeling that there were more people that we could have reached, and that those who might have benefited from our message the most weren’t in the audience.
As co-head of the Sexuality and Gender Alliance (SAGA), I’ve had many amazing experiences, but I’ve also had many discouraging, upsetting and downright infuriating experiences. This is a wonderful community, but not a perfect one. There’s still plenty of homophobia, transphobia, heteronormativity and gender normativity, and while I accept that this is reality, what’s truly shocking is the level of apathy toward these issues.
I’ll never forget the night that I officially came out to my a cappella group. We were all partying together, and even though they knew that I was co-head of SAGA and have had a girlfriend before, I realized I had never actually told them that I’m gay. One by one, they all gave the same reaction: “Kenzie, it doesn’t matter. We don’t care.” Now, I know what they meant was that they loved me no matter what and that me being gay didn’t change anything, but the implications of what they actually said have stuck with me – “It doesn’t matter. We don’t care.”
While I was relieved that they didn’t kick me out of the party, I couldn’t help being slightly hurt when I reflected on their words the next day. Coming out had been a ground-breaking experience for me. To hear that it was “no big deal” seemed oddly dismissive.
Lately, I’ve realized that this sentiment is indicative of the larger attitude toward the LGBTQ community at Haverford. We’re a very accepting school, and I’ve never been directly discriminated against for being queer. In some ways, however, this tolerance is a double-edged sword. On the surface, everything at Haverford is peachy-keen and great, but Fords often forget that the state of Pennsylvania has just as few LGBTQ protections and rights as my home state of Oklahoma.
It seems that the way that we’ve decided to fight back against this discrimination is to never talk about difference. We’re all people, right? Isn’t that all that matters? It doesn’t matter if you’re gay, straight, bi, trans, black, white, rich, or poor because we’re all equal at Haverford, right? Wrong. Not only does this way of thinking ignore the great deal of alienation that minority students often go through, it also denies the fact that identity is shaped through experience, and that that should be celebrated. Differences don’t divide us, they make us stronger.
I am a lesbian. I am other things, too: a woman, a feminist, a Sociology major, a good friend, a proud Haverford student. While all those identifiers are true, they’re also excruciatingly politically correct. I left out the fact that I lived in housing projects for a good portion of my childhood, or that I was raised Southern Baptist. I left out that I didn’t know what homosexuality was until I asked my mom why all my peers teased my seventh grade choir teacher, who, unbeknownst to me, was a lesbian. I left out that I’m angry.
These experiences aren’t negative things and I shouldn’t feel like being at Haverford will help me rise above them. Silence is not acceptance. Acknowledging an experience doesn’t mean that you can’t see past it or that you’re insecure about it, and ignoring our differences doesn’t unite us or make us more accepting.
I don’t want to be a part of a community that doesn’t validate the person that I am. I shouldn’t feel uncomfortable claiming being gay as an integral part of my identity. Yes, I’m more than my sexual orientation, but that doesn’t necessarily make those other parts of my identity more important. My goal for this campus isn’t assimilation or even acceptance, it’s awareness. I don’t speak for the entire queer community on campus – I know some people take comfort in the fact that they aren’t defined by their sexuality. But that only makes the need to talk about this issue even more dire.
We should be cognizant that not all queer students feel comfortable here. In the past, when SAGA has created community spaces for discussion about issues queer students face, people don’t want to talk or listen. Not everyone has to be a gay rights activist, but I thought that this was a school that valued dialogue and progress. I don’t think that Haverford is actively trying to hurt the LGBTQ community, but by ignoring the problem, we’re not doing good by the mutual trust, concern, and respect in our Honor Code.
This is a confrontation, but it is not a condemnation. It’s a call for a “confront-a-logue,” if you will. All I want is for people to seek out a solution. I don’t necessarily know that there is one answer, but I know that if we don’t talk about it, nothing will ever get better. I love Haverford and my fellow students, and I look forward to the day that we can all agree with the sentiment on the back of this year’s SAGA t-shirts: “We’re here. Some of us are queer. Let’s talk about it.”