Oswego State supportive of LGBT community on campus

Suicides by several gay youth across the country over the last couple of months have brought a heightened awareness to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, including the one at Oswego State. Compared to the horrific circumstances reported from across the country, Oswego State is considered a welcoming and accepting campus for those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

One organization promoting this kind of environment is Pride Alliance, who, according to their Constitution, provides "emotional, educational, social and cultural support for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, inter-sexed questioning and ally college students and surrounding community." The organization is known for sponsoring several events on campus including the annual Drag Ball and Equality Banquet in addition to bringing various speakers.

Katy Van Houtte, president of Pride Alliance, said that beyond the sponsored events, the organization is a channel for students who have experienced bullying and unfairness to get in touch with the proper authorities.

"We take these things very seriously and know who we can consult to get some results." Van Houtte said. "We are very closely tied to Judicial Affairs and to faculty who know how to pull strings, so we’re not afraid to do some fighting."

Despite a small number of students attending meetings (around 12 to 25 members attend each weekly meeting), Van Houtte knows there is strong support for the LGBT community as evident by the response to the annual National Coming Day. For this year’s event, the Pride Alliance ordered over 2,300 shirts (with either the phrase "Out and Proud," or "I Support Equality," printed on them) and handed out all of them.

In response to the suicides across the country, Pride Alliance supported the wear purple Spirit Day on Oct. 20 and talked about it in their meetings. In addition, this prompted the organization to start Safe Space Workshop, a "seminar for the teaching and training of faculty and staff to provide safe environments for LGBT students," according to Van Houtte. She also plans on Pride Alliance doing presentations across campus on topics, including stereotyping and hurtful terminology.

Some faculty members also feel that Oswego State is welcoming to LGBT individuals, including Jane Winslow, an assistant professor in broadcast and communication studies, said she would not have come to Oswego State if it was not accepting.

"I never felt the need personally to be anything but open when I applied for this job," including asking about partner benefits during the interview process.

With the exception of one incident at a former institution, Winslow has not experienced any issues with students because she is a lesbian.

"I’m really lucky because I have good relationships with both straight and gay/lesbian students and the cool thing is I think they all feel comfortable," Winslow said.

"I’ve had more trouble with authority issues being a woman," Winslow added. "I find it more of a gender issue honestly than a gay/lesbian issue."

Despite not experiencing any issues directly while at Oswego State, Van Houtte knows of others who have been harassed for being LGBT. Her acquaintances were "kicked out of a dorm room suite because the other suite mates felt uncomfortable living with a lesbian," and have dealt with homophobic remarks while working at an on-campus job. In addition, she has heard various homophobic verbal slurs thrown around and seen anti-gay graffiti in residence halls.

Winslow believes that Oswego State has done a good job of keeping on top of incidents and has been pro-active with potential problems.

Although the campus community has been generally tolerant and accepting to LGBT students, it is not necessarily the case for the greater Oswego community. Bill Martin believes that Oswego County is not a tolerant community because of its conservative nature. As a result, he started an Oswego Chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) in 2004. PFLAG is a national organization with headquarters in Washington, D.C., that provides support, educational and advocacy services to the community that started in 1972.

"There are people, no matter where one lives, who are tolerant and maybe even accepting and supportive but in a conservative area like this, there are probably many more people who are intolerant rather than tolerant," Martin said.

Part of Martin’s reasoning is because he deals with all different types of harassment issues, ranging from minor to major incidents in Oswego County, and has provided "supportive services where requested to people who are connected with victims or may in fact have been the victim."

Martin stresses that PFLAG is not secretive but instead is committed and prepared to protect the LGBT community, including the students and faculty of the college. This includes a strong emphasis on confidentiality. There is a support group once a month and there are individuals who will go through the entire meeting without saying their name.

"Things are getting better, but there is much more homophobia out there than you think," Martin said.

The key to a more tolerant community is education, since, as Martin puts it, "human beings tend to be cautious and fearful of things we don’t know or don’t know well enough."

Yet beyond that, another key point is being pro-active in supporting those who are LGBT, as Winslow puts it, "so that they feel safe staying out, being out and being a full member of the community."

Winslow continued, "It not only helps gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth, or people, it also helps the straight world as well because the more the straight world sees who we are and that we are actually no different… the more people can see that the better our community and our world is, the more understanding our world is."