‘There is no such thing as a stupid question’
It is only natural to seek out acceptance from others. Universities are well known as havens for difference and diversity. As centres for progressive thinking, inclusive attitudes and open-mindedness, they often attract a broad spectrum of individuals.
Here at Laurier, consistent efforts are made to ensure that as many people as possible feel as though they belong and are fundamental to campus life. Being a Laurier Hawk is not, and should never be, dependant on race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.
Institutions of higher learning, however, like any sector of society, are not perfect. There are still members of the Laurier community who feel less than welcome and different, even in this age of apparent political correctness, education and acceptance.
One such group, Laurier’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersexed and queer (LGBTIQ) community, still struggles against a lack of education and the remnants of historically ingrained prejudice.
“I think that we have come a far way with acceptance, but on the way to finding acceptance we have missed out on some important steps,” Maeve Strathy, a fifth-year English major and former volunteer at the Rainbow Centre explains.
“[Laurier] is an accepting community but now there are people who are afraid to ask questions with the fear that they are going to offend someone.”
Unfortunately this fear sometimes translates into an over-zealous sense of political correctness, leaving important subjects left untouched.
Though we are reaching a point in our culture where homophobia is no longer acceptable, education is essential to understanding and understanding is needed for true equality.
For those who have not yet come out, anxiety and fear can be overwhelming. Self-loathing and denial can paralyze feel the need to hide their true sexual orientation because of external pressures.
“The number one thing right now is to get that discussion going. We are missing out on a large community, and it is not about oppression or homophobia, it’s about being afraid that asking questions will be insulting,” Strathy stressed.
“There is no such thing as a stupid question,” added Cory Souza, a third-year English and film studies student who is also a volunteer at the Rainbow Centre.
Every year steps are made to embrace those who have been marginalized in the past. Laurier appears to be on the cusp of socially aware universities in Canada. As Gabe Rose, a transgender first-year arts student explains, “It shows how much Laurier considers diversity to be an important topic.”
The Rainbow Centre, located in the basement of MacDonald House was founded in 2006 and as Rose believes, is highly representative of Laurier’s forward-thinking student body and administration.
Prior to the 2005-06 academic year, the Rainbow Centre as we know it did not exist. In its place was a campus club known as Global (gay, lesbian or bisexual at Laurier). Though Global’s presence on campus was fundamental in bringing the university up to speed in terms of social awareness, it did not function as a student service.
When Global became the Rainbow Centre, it made the important jump from generic campus club to being a necessary student service. This transition afforded the much needed centre adequate funding and a permanent location on campus.
According to Rose, the Rainbow Centre has acted as a safe haven for him. “The centre was the first place I came when I moved to Laurier and it was the first place I was accepted. It is a service on one level, but it is also a community,” he reminisced.
The Rainbow Centre, so often understood as strictly a place for gay men and lesbian women, has become a community for anyone at Laurier seeking to explore sexual orientation, whether their own, or simply better understanding the sexual orientation of others.
“I really think the Rainbow Centre helps influence student views in a positive way,” Cory Souza, a longtime volunteer at the Rainbow Centre, said.
“It’s not just ‘a place for the gays.’” Souza has been open about his sexual orientation for years, coming out to his friends and family in grade 10.
Though Souza exudes confidence, he understands the realities that go along with coming out about one’s sexuality. “If I didn’t have enough self-esteem I would not have been able to deal with the backlash and questions,” he explained. That being said, Souza made a point to highlight that “[coming out] is not a struggle, it’s a journey.”
It has been a journey for Rose as well, who, as a female to male transgendered individual finds it can be difficult making others around him understand his gender identity.
“The most important thing for me is not being rude,” Rose explained on the topic of educating others about his gender identity. “I don’t want to be a jerk to anyone, but if someone is calling me a ‘she,’ I will gently correct them.
“I feel as though I can be a lot more open about myself here. There is no external pressure from parents and family anymore.”
Despite the fact that campus life embodies many of the ideals we should all hope for in our society – open-mindedness, diversity and a shared desire to learn about that which we do not understand, being open about ones sexual orientation is not an easy step.
“When I first came to Laurier I didn’t know anyone, so I kind of went back into the closet again, it was starting the process all over again,” said Strathy.
“I was involved with the Rainbow Centre for my second, third and fourth year. It was an opportunity for me to become more comfortable and be part of a service that makes so many others more comfortable.”
Laurier has the opportunity to continue being an example for the rest of society through our socially aware attitudes. The next step is to expand our understanding of others so we can all better accommodate our unique qualities in the most respectful ways possible.
Graphic by Trina Schmidt
What is the difference between sex and gender?
Biological sex is determined by the genetics, anatomy and physiology of the individual.
Gender identity refers how an individual identifies their internal and psychological sense of self with regards to gender, femininity, masculinity and/or androgyny. Gender is often mistakenly believed to be determined by biological sex, but the two are actually independent from one another.
Terms to be aware of
LGBTIQ: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersexed and Queer.
Heterosexual: A heterosexual man or woman’s primary sexual and romantic attraction is to people of the other sex. Some people who consider themselves heterosexual have had sexual contact with people of the same sex. Heterosexual people are also referred to as “straight”.
Bisexual: Bisexual men and women have sexual and romantic attractions to both men and women. Depending upon the person, his or her attraction may be stronger to women or men, or they may be approximately equal. Bisexuals are also referred to as “bi”.
Homophobia: The irrational fear and intolerance of people who are homosexual or of homosexual feelings within oneself. This assumes that heterosexuality is superior.
Pansexual: A term of choice for people who do not self-identify as bisexual, finding themselves attracted to people across a spectrum of genders.
Ally: A non-lesbian, gay man or bisexual whose attitudes and behaviour are anti-heterosexist in perspective and who works towards combating homophobia and heterosexism, both on a personal and institutional level.
Come out: Coming out is not a single event, but a lifelong process. To declare to oneself and/or publicly affirm one’s sexual or gender identity, sometimes to one person in conversation, sometimes by an act that places one in the public eye. In each new situation, a LBGTIQ person must decide whether or not to come out.
GRS: Gender Reassignment Surgery is a misnomer but is used to refer to the ‘sex-change’ operation, sometimes knows as SRS (Sexual Reassignment Surgery).
Pre-op: Short for pre-operative, refers to someone who has not yet had GRS, but who intends to undergo such surgery.
Post-op: Short for post-operative, refers to someone who has undergone GRS.
Fag/Faggot: The word faggot originally comes from a Latin word, meaning a bundle of sticks. Throughout history, witches were burned with faggots. During the inquisition, the term came to be applied to the bodies of LGBTIQ people that were used as kindling and burned along with witches. Overall, the term fag or faggots is used derogatorily as a slur against gay men; however, many men within the gay community have reclaimed the term as a word of pride and affection towards other gay men.
Hate crime: Hate crime legislation often defines a hate crime as a crime motivated by the actual or perceived race, colour, religion, national origin, ethnicity, gender, disability or sexual orientation of any person.
Internalized oppression: The process by which an oppressed person comes to believe, accept or live out the inaccurate stereotypes and misinformation about their group.
Discrimination: For the purpose here, the act of showing partiality or prejudice; a prejudicial act.
Laurier’s history of homophobia
It is possible to track the changes in Laurier’s acceptance of sexual orientations that do not conform to a hetero-normalcy by looking at two stories from our very recent history.
15 years later WLUSU is now accepting of the queer community
So if you’re different, having been born with a homosexual orientation, then don’t come to Laurier. You’re not supposed to exist here. It doesn’t matter if you are honest, intelligent, studious, caring, hard-working, an asset to society and a wonderful person – if you also happen to be gay, WLUSU doesn’t want you around. You’re not human, obviously.
– Letter to the editor that appeared in The Cord on January 21, 1982
This letter was written in response to WLUSU’s policies towards a group of individuals who identified themselves as “Laurier’s Gays”. The students were denied the right to establish themselves as a campus club on account of their sexual orientation
“Faggot” is not an OK thing to call anyone
On November 14, 2007, the front page of The Cord was plastered with the disheartening headline “Homophobia hit Wilf’s last Thursday.”
The true open-mindedness of this campus was made very clear when the audience, enjoying headlining band Casey Baker and the Buffalo Sinners, backed away from the stage and ended their night early after Casey Baker called an audience member who had mooned the stage a “fuckin’ faggot.” Immediately after these comments were uttered, the band’s microphones were shut off and the show ended.
The negative response to Baker’s inappropriate comment is representative of the leaps and bounds Laurier has made in terms of its acceptance and appreciation of diversity.