LGBT Voices: Becoming Myself
Life stories offer messages of hope
Zac Brokenrope (SED’12) talks about growing up in Nebraska and finding a new home at BU. He is one of many students, faculty, and staff in the LGBT community who shared their stories with BU Today. Watch on BUniverse. Add your voice to the mix by uploading a video on BUniverse.
In September alone, we read news reports about the suicides of at least four gay teens. No doubt there were more we didn’t read about.
During the same month, the LGBT advocacy group Campus Pride conducted a nationwide survey of 5,000 gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered college students, faculty, and staff. A quarter of them said they had been harassed for their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Liz Douglass, Marsh Chapel associate for LGBTQ students, talks about coming out, being accepted by her family, and finding renewed faith in her religion.
At the same time, there is evidence that attitudes are changing. Earlier this month, a federal judge struck down the military’s Don’t ask, Don’t tell policy. Hate crime legislation is weaving its way through Congress. And gay marriage is now legal in five states and the District of Columbia.
Joe Solmonese (COM’87), president of Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest LGBT civil rights organization, calls this a “tipping-point moment,” one in which the United States is “poised to really make some very significant strides in matters of LGBT equality.”
“Unfortunately, in those tipping-point moments there’s the greatest resistance,” he says. “We see people empowered to be out and open about who they are and then we see the measures of violence and bullying all of a sudden in a more significant way.”
Dan Savage, a columnist at Seattle’s alternative weekly The Stranger, chose the moment to launch the video series “It Gets Better” with a video of him and his partner talking about the pain of growing up gay and about the point at which their lives got better.
“I was really heartbroken,” Savage told National Public Radio, when he heard about Billy Lucas, one of the first young men who committed suicide in September. “I had the reaction that so many gay adults have when we hear these stories: I wish I could have talked to that kid for five minutes and been able to tell him that it gets better.”
Robert Volk, a School of Law associate professor, talks about being bullied in high school, coming out, and finding peace in his personal and professional life.
Savage’s site, which invites all people to share their stories, now has more than 5,000 videos, posted by members of the LGBT community and straight supporters (among them President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) and has had more than 11 million visitors. It is, as they say, not just a website: it’s a movement.
Although Solmonese hasn’t yet offered up a video of himself, he appreciates Savage’s project. Growing up in Attleboro, Mass.—a place he calls “not diverse or worldly,” he was harassed, teased, and called names for being gay.
At BU, he says, he was impressed by the diversity of the University’s student body and quietly encouraged to note that an openly gay crew member was his Bay State Road neighbor.
“Even though I wasn’t out while I was in school,” Solmonese says, “BU did instill in me that sense that I could do anything I wanted to do and be anything I wanted to be.”
Laura Maechtlen (LAW’02), a partner in the law firm Seyfarth Shaw, says that for her coming out was more of a process than an event. She remembers a tearful confession to her mother about a high school girlfriend who had started dating a mutual male friend. “My mother sat there for a good, solid two minutes,” Maechtlen recalls. “Then she said, ‘Well, she obviously didn’t make the right decision.’” And that was that.
She says it wasn’t until she started practicing in San Francisco—where there were many LGBT judges, city council members, and state legislators—that she felt at home.
“It’s okay to have certain feelings and not know exactly what they mean and not have a definition for yourself,” says Maechtlen, a past president of the National LGBT Bar Association. “It’s important to know that there’s an amazing network of people out there willing to reach out and help if you need it.”
Students, faculty, and staff in BU’s LGBT community share their storiesof living openly gay and getting to a point where life gets better. Click on the image above or watch more on BUniverse. Photos by Vernon Doucette. Graphic by Daniel Essrow56 Comments