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Campus Mood Optimistic on Gay Rights

BU seen as gay-friendly, but challenges remain


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In the video above, thoughtful conversation about being gay on campus, in Boston, and in the world.

As several major rulings hang in the balance, gay BU students believe that antigay bias has dropped dramatically around the nation and is extremely rare on campus.

For the students recently interviewed, struggles are more personal than political, focused on gaining parents’ understanding and acceptance and on helping to debunk gay stereotypes.

“Whenever I say, ‘My girlfriend …’ I’m making a decision,” says Melissa Straz (SED’05), an academic support specialist at BU’s Educational Resource Center and an advisor to Spectrum, BU’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender student group. “The more people who know a gay person, the more things will change.”

Students believe that change may be coming slowly, by their measure, but it will come. And even in the face of drawbacks such as California’s successful anti–gay marriage initiative Proposition 8, many feel that we are edging closer to a time when, to paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr. (GRS’55, Hon.’59), gay people will be judged not by their choice of partner, but by the content of their characters.

“I hope that when I get married I can live anywhere and not worry about it,” says Paul Renolis (SAR’11).

As assistant director of the Howard Thurman Center, Raul Fernandez (COM’00) often works with Spectrum, and he too is optimistic. “It will take work,” he says, “even going door to door.”

To many, progress on gay rights seems to be two steps forward, one step back. Candidate Barack Obama’s emphatic promise to reverse the military’s don’t-ask-don’t-tell (DADT) policy has given way to President Obama’s hope for a legislative remedy rather than an executive order. For every pro–gay rights gesture in Spain, Mexico, Germany and South Africa, antigay stances harden in Malawi, Kenya, Iran, and Egypt. Uganda is moving to punish homosexuality with death, despite condemnation from Obama and other leaders.

Katharine Silbaugh, a School of Law professor and family law expert, acknowledges that there are a lot of “scary and depressing” things happening internationally, but believes they are a reaction to broadening acceptance of gays in the West and a backlash against the increasingly accepted notion of gay “as an identity rather than a set of practices.”

Silbaugh was a member of the legal team on the landmark Massachusetts case Goodrich vs. the Department of Public Health, which led to the November 2003 high court ruling that the commonwealth’s denying equal marriage rights to gays is unconstitutional.

“At 20, students have only really been aware of the outside world since they were 15,” she says. “But this is a completely different world than 10 years ago, and for the good. Yes, bad stuff happens. Proposition 8 happens. At the same time, states in the Midwest are voluntarily allowing civil unions among gays and in some cases gay marriage.”

Progress also can be seen in subtle ways closer to home: for years a LAW class on gay rights had the euphemistic name Law and Morality, says Silbaugh, rather than its more accurate name, Law and Sexual Orientation. “Students didn’t want the course on their transcript,” she says, but that has changed.

Don’t ask don’t tell remains a point of contention on campus, where ROTC and the Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps recruit students. Silbaugh and students agree that whether it comes from Congress after a protracted battle or from Obama’s pen, DADT will be dropped. This and gay marriage are cases of “history moving forward,” she says. “The support for gay marriage is overwhelming among young people. So it’s just a matter of time.”

Susan Seligson can be reached at sueselig@bu.edu.


15 Comments on Campus Mood Optimistic on Gay Rights

  • Anonymous on 03.22.2010 at 11:09 am

    I’m sorry, but just because I am against gay marriage and would have voted for Prop 8 that doesn’t make me “antigay.” I am not that in the least, I just have beliefs that perhaps others may share. “The world don’t move to the beat of just one drum” works both ways. I’m against all of the rulings in places like Iran just as much as the next person.

  • kcornuelle on 03.22.2010 at 11:52 am

    great piece

    thank you to all the students/staff that spoke out about their experiences. your courage is amazing, and so are you!

  • Anonymous on 03.22.2010 at 12:28 pm

    Should we change our institutions to accommodate every disorder, or are we fighting for gay privileges? Maybe we should redefine theft to accomodate all paraphilias. Yes, Same Sex Attraction was in the DSM until social pressure, not science, resulted in its removal against the wishes of those who studied the condition most closely.

    Here’s a list of what’s to come:

  • Anonymous on 03.22.2010 at 1:45 pm

    Re: "I'm sorry" and others

    For the person who apologized about being against gay marriage, I don’t want your apology. Keep your religious beliefs and your morals to yourself. This has nothing to do with religion. It is a legal issue. Whatever happened to the separation of church and state?

    I’ve lost friends over the marriage issue. If you aren’t for gay marriage, then I don’t have a place for you in my life. It basically says, ‘you can be my friend, but only a second-class friend because you’re gay and I don’t think you are equal to me.’

    As a tax paying citizen of this country, I should be able to legally enter a committed relationship with someone and have all the rights extended to me that my parents have or that my siblings have.

  • Anonymous on 03.22.2010 at 3:23 pm

    You guys are wonderful, thanks for speaking up for so many others out there.

  • Anonymous on 03.22.2010 at 5:53 pm

    “Should we change”, I find your comment interesting. You seem to think social pressure took Same Sex Attraction off the DSM and not science. But your point is a double edged sword. There has been no modern conclusive study to say that it even should have been there in the first place! However, there is a long reading list that supports that it was old social pressure/norms that got it there in the first place much like interracial marriage was once illegal in many states. As as for “gay privileges”, I don’t believe the privileges of right to equality and the pursuit of happiness are “gay” rather than simply human privileges which is exactly the point.

  • Anonymous on 03.22.2010 at 6:36 pm

    I am not anti-gay, but legalizing same-sex marriage will destroy the family structure. For millenia, a family has been a man, a woman, and children. This definition of family is in the very fabric of human thinking. Gays, in my opinion, have the right to enter into a civil union or whatever else they want to do. What they do not have the right to determine what marriage is for a whole nation. Also, if gay marriage is legalized, it will snowball into worse things. If two men or two women can get married, why can’t two men and a woman or three women and a man get married? Why couldn’t a man marry an animal, such as a dog? People don’t seem to see the difference between a civil issue and a moral issue. Morally, I believe gays shouldn’t marry based on my religious beliefs; in a civil sense, gays should have the right to form civil unions. People need to stop undermining and destroying what marriage means to so many people.

  • Anonymous on 03.23.2010 at 10:35 am

    Straight voters

    Why should straight people have the right to vote against gay marriage? The result, either in the positive or the negative, would have no effect on the lives of straight people. It would be like if women AND men could vote on something that only effects women. Oh, wait…

  • Anonymous on 03.23.2010 at 11:05 am

    Yes, you are anti-gay. Three posts? You must have a personal interest in this subject.

    You need to get to the nearest BU psychology professor and ask about the DSM. Every major psychological association has concluded that homosexuality is as natural and healthy as coveted heterosexuality.

    Marriage has taken many forms over the centuries. There is nothing intrinsically sacred or static about it. Like any social institution, it has adapted over the centuries in order to survive. Women were essentially property until relatively recently. Are you in favor of retaining that sacred tradition?

    It would not occur to you that you have no right to tell other people who they can or cannot marry but contemplate this: how would you like a referendum on heterosexual marriage where only LGBT people could vote?

  • Anonymous on 03.23.2010 at 11:29 am

    What is Marriage?

    When you go through a divorce in Massachusetts you discover that legal marriage is about: Money & Property, Child Custody & Support, Medical proxies & visitation.

    The religious definitions of marriage are something that religious institutions can and do debate among themselves, BUT they really have no place in the public debate about legal marriage. The ‘slippery slope’ argument about animal marriage shows how immature and uninformed the public debate can be.

    – – – – –

    I don’t believe a couple should be denied spousal inheritance, alimony, child custody or hospital visitation just because they share the gender desciption on a birth certificate.

  • Anonymous on 03.23.2010 at 12:35 pm

    By your logic “I am not anti gay but…” any deviance from your definition of a family as a man, a woman, and children would destroy the family structure. So what would you say to a man and a woman who get married but then elect not to have children or simply cannot? Shall we strip them of their rights? What happens, I wonder, to those men and women who get a divorce? Will we relegate them to being second class citizens? Will we shun their children or kick them out of our schools because of this? I think that you have put far too much stock in your religious beliefs, blinding you to the fact that love is what defines a family. Look around you. Are your friends not close enough to be considered like family to you? Is your heart so closed that the only people you see as worthwhile are the ones connected to you by a ceremony and a legal document?

  • Cynical on 03.23.2010 at 3:29 pm

    What is the big fuss people?

    Gays should have the right to be just as miserable as straight people. Let’s be real: marriage? sacred? Don’t bother trying to call the matrimony “holy.” Let people be placed in a higher tax bracket.

  • Anonymous on 03.27.2010 at 1:32 am

    re: by your logic im not anti-

    i dont understand how marriage between 2 gay people ruins the sanctity of the family. what you’re saying is that a family is a man woman and children, but you’re supporting civil unions and raising of children by gay couples. I don’t understand what preventing legal benefits at the federal level then preserves about heterosexual families…why not allow that last step if you’re allowing everything else. the most significant thing about a family is that you’re bringing people into the world and teaching them how to live, and i think the most important thing to teach them is to love everyone, regardless of how different their family is. And to me fellow gay people, continue the fight but live your life. We live our lives with our loved ones and children and will continue to do so no matter what. But we deserve equality. I wish everyone would take a minute to realize what in the world they wish they equal in. We are not equal, and it is really a terrible feeling. One day we will be.

  • Anonymous on 03.30.2010 at 2:10 pm

    Great Piece

    This piece is great because it shows all of us that BU is a diverse welcoming place. I am proud to be a part of this institution.

  • charlierichards on 09.21.2010 at 5:51 pm

    The only good thing about repealing DADT is that it would prevent a lot of good guys from losing their jobs. On the other hand, not much will change, since the military will still be fundamentally homophobic. I’m not gay and never was (at least that I know of, hah), but I am currently stationed in Pendleton, and happen to know quite a few men that are forced to serve in the closet. There have been times when I have asked a couple of them if they’d come out if DADT was ever repealed, and the answer was always that they would like to, but they wouldn’t. The real problem here is the homophobic majority of ppl serving in the armed forces that give in to group think and suffer from alpha male syndrome. Even if DADT never existed, I couldn’t even imagine a gay soldier coming out of the closet because of his or her anxiety from having to watch his ass from getting jumped from that day on. Imo, the military’s obsession with uniformity and control of its members down to their very ideologies has allowed homosexuality to be stigmatized and reviled far more than it already has by the civilian majority of this country.

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