“I’m okay with you being gay, but you don’t need to shove it down everyone’s throats.”
Most gay individuals have heard this statement at some point, whether it be directed at them or someone else. However, this type of casual homophobia has been used to attempt to repress the expression of self-identity by people who actually are not okay with others being gay.
Identifying as gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, or for some, identifying with the term queer (not to be used as a blanket term), often encompasses much more than the surface-level understanding people may have about what it means to not be heterosexual.
It is necessary for people to understand that each distinct and respective sexuality that is not considered “heterosexual” has its own unique culture and aspects to it that defines its community.
Regardless of the overarching casual homophobia that may be engrained in mainstream media and culture, students deserve to feel comfortable with not just their new college community and resources, but with expressing their identities to the fullest extent.
Isaac Akapnitis, a faculty associate for the School of Social Work, who identifies as both trans and queer, said, "It is things in our daily language that we may not think about or we may not perceive to be homophobic."
For many LGBTQ+ individuals, they did not always get to live out their adolescences in the same way that their heterosexual friends did. While many of their friends were in the dating scene and publicly expressing themselves in the stereotypical teenage manner, many LGBTQ+ individuals were still figuring out their own identities.
Coming to terms with your sexuality is different for everyone, and it can often be a hard and lengthy process. It can be additionally challenging for students who do not come from accepting and welcoming environments.
The median age for someone who is not heterosexual to come out is 17, according to 2013 statistics from the Pew Research Center.
There are a variety of external and internal factors that cause non-heterosexuals to hold off on coming out of the closet, some of which having to do with safety. According to the FBI, "In 2017, law enforcement agencies reported 1,303 hate crime offenses based on sexual-orientation bias."
Ultimately, members of the community should not have to choose between expressing their identities and safety — and this should not be the case whatsoever in college.
“I see (high-school) students really knowing who they are then, even earlier," Akapnitis said. "A lot of students may already know who they are, but (college) might be the first time that they may really be able to express their feelings because they’re away from home, or they are in a bigger campus instead of their high school campus which can make it harder to be anonymous to be exploring."
All students and faculty regardless of their identities should work to ensure that the college environment is as welcoming as possible, and many non-heterosexual individuals spend a lot of time repressing their identities.
"The extra emotional labor is not discussed and not recognized,” Akapnitis said. "Anything that admin or professors or instructors can do to create safer spaces I think is incredibly important."
It is necessary for anyone who would consider themselves an ally of the LGBTQ+ community to not pick and choose which aspects of the gay-identity they can accept, but to realize it is a package deal.
College is a time for exploration and self-expression for every student, and it shouldn't be any different for gay students. With the history surrounding homophobia and the presence of casual homophobia in our daily lives, members of the community deserve every right to flaunt and express their sexuality in any way they want.
Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.
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