Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Confronting Homophobia At ETSU

This article was posted on the website of the ETSU student newspaper, The East Tennessean. This story is written from the perspective of a student who was in his words 'interrogated' by the housing department because his roommate learned he was gay. Read this well-written article:
Campus living is an integral part of the total educational experience at East Tennessee State University. On-campus living offers a wealth of opportunities for residents to experience individual growth and development. The staff of the Department of Housing and Residence Life at East Tennessee State University welcomes the unique opportunity of providing residents with activities that increase their understanding of diversity and enhance their social and emotional well-being. - The Department of Housing Mission Statement, www.etsu.edu/students/housing/housing.htm.

The above paragraph is a lie. Promising "total educational experience" and offering "individual growth and development," the Department of Housing is in actuality a much weaker advocate of its own mission statement than I am.

My rancor with Housing began a week after meeting a former roommate, who complained to Housing he could not live with me on the grounds he knew I was gay "by the end of our first conversation."

How horrific.

One would think the Housing Department would never succumb to a homophobe's desires. Hmm, one would assume the Housing Department should ponder, "Let's tell this dogmatist to try living with Mr. Smith for a couple of days. Maybe exposure to someone else's different background would do him some good. Hell, it may even emulate our mission statement of increasing understanding of diversity!"

Not quite the mental process that occurred, I am afraid. Instead, it seemed Housing cared more for appeasing homophobia than insuring diversity.

A week after my first and only conversation with my former roommate, I received a request from Housing to meet with a housing official. I walked inside Burgin Dossett, passed the disheartening line of people surrounding Financial Aid, and met with them. The official informed me that my roommate did not want to live with me, and he proceeded to interrogate me to "better understand the situation" because the pieces apparently didn't seem to fit.

Was I being forward with my former roommate? No. I told the official I was gay because I was creepily asked if I was a "lady's man."

Was I trying to make my roommate uncomfortable? No, and to be honest, narrow-mindedness would be the only source of discomfort.

Was I trying to scare my roommate off and keep the room to myself? Uh, no! I was not being manipulative in any way, and I do not appreciate being accused of using my identity as a weapon, sir.

To go through such a barrage of questioning is insulting. I understand ascertaining the situation, but why is it that Housing did not understand its own actions as being rather sloppy and one-sided? I did nothing wrong. I had no cruel intent.

Why should I be the one to undergo a series of implications as if I were the one who had a problem? I ask these questions now because they were not answered when I asked them then. I could not explain from any angle to the housing official why I felt discriminated against.

Let's say I had a different skin color or a different religion and my roommate had a problem with either. "I can't live with this person because he is black," would be a crude example. Would it be just as easy for someone to go to Housing and get his or her way? I highly doubted it before my own experience; now, I cannot comfortably say that Housing would deny a racist or a bigot another room. (Read More)
Homophobia is a reality to be sure in East Tennessee. Thankfully, students like Mr. Smith and advocacy groups like PFLAG Tri-Cities, The Tennessee Equality Project (a new chapter is forming in the Tri-Cities), and the ETSU Office of Diversity are speaking out for positive change.
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