Faces among the crowd

Sep 112003
Authors: Ben Bleckley

Gay and lesbian students at CSU do not necessarily stand out in the crowd. They have no specific visual characteristics that set them apart from anyone else.

“When I meet people, I don’t say, ‘Hi, my name’s Kelley, and I’m a lesbian,'” said Kelley Barnes, a junior psychology major. “I don’t make a point of it.”

For gays and lesbians, campus life is full of misunderstanding.

“I’ve had Christians come up to me and tried to convert me, to not be gay,” said Michael Gates, a junior. The French, German and international studies major was raised Christian.

“When I first came out, I lost some friends,” Gates said.

But all in all, the experience on campus is positive, the students interviewed said.

“I don’t feel different. I don’t feel out of place,” said Twana Tisdon, a junior liberal arts major. “I just want to do my own thing. I think the thing I like most about campus is that I can walk around holding my girlfriend’s hand and not have to hear people say things,” Tisdon said.

One thing that especially helps, the students said, is that CSU has an office for homosexual students called Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Student Services. The students stress that this office is open to everyone.

“I think there are two big misconceptions about the office; that the office is only on campus for that community, for GLBT, and that it’s this big serious counseling, that you need serious counseling to come in here – not to say we don’t offer that,” said Becki Orze, a junior biology major. “We want to be open to everyone.”

While campus life seems safe and comfortable, some situations are not the same. Barnes is a waitress part-time.

“Sometimes I don’t know if I’ll get home from work,” Barnes said.

In 1998, Matthew Shepard, a gay student from the University of Wyoming, was murdered in Laramie for his sexual orientation. He had been coming out of a bar and was attacked. He later died at Poudre Valley Hospital.

“I’m not going to not be myself for anybody else. And if that puts me in danger, I’m not going to back down,” said Haedis Safi, a sophomore broadcasting communications major.

But Safi said the worst discrimination he ever received were looks.

“When I had a boyfriend last year, when we’d walk around or we’d go out on a date, (people would look at us) like ‘what’s going on here?’ But we never got kicked out of a restaurant or anything like that,” he said.

Physical harm is only one worry, however. There is no protection for homosexuals under local, state or federal discrimination law. Homosexuals can be fired for their sexual orientation alone.

Months after the death of Matthew Shepard, Fort Collins voted on issue 2B, which would have protected individuals from discrimination based on sexual orientation. A 62 percent majority overturned the issue.

“I hear people use ‘fag’ and other derogatory words, and I can’t say anything, can’t do what I swore to myself I would, because I need the job,” said Barnes, who uses her paychecks to pay for tuition and housing. “It sucks (that we aren’t protected).”

Despite all this, the students remain optimistic.

“I don’t hide anything,” Safi said. He notices discomfort, but doesn’t let it contain him.

“If I’m talking to somebody and we’re talking about our weekend, and they say, ‘well, I did this, and this and went to this club and blah, blah, blah,’ and I say, ‘I did this and I went to club whatever and met a really cute guy there,’ Safi said. “I just put it in the conversation like anyone else would. I just put it out there like it is for me because it’s normal for me.”

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