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.”15 Comments