Top News

“Out” In the Community

Audrey Colombe and Partner

Audrey Colombe

Doctor of English

Identifies as: Prefers no labels

·      Was the community you were in, when you “came out,” accepting?

o   “I was living in New York, and when I was living in New York I was sort of doing the ‘Bi’ thing. I had girlfriends and I had boyfriends. I never made any big announcement. I’ve really always hated the labels. I made a conscious decision towards my partner, and I had made that conscious decision with men before that. I had two potentially ‘longer-than-they-were-term’ relationships with men. And then I met my partner now, and we’ve been together almost 20 years. I still to this day have reservations about the labels. But I have to say that part of what attracted me to being a ‘lesbian’ was that I was on the edge. I was outside. I’ve always been fine with not getting married. It’s never been important to me, and I think that’s because of my family. I have six what I would call ‘parental units.’ I never had firm definitions of the nuclear family that worked for me; it was always outside the box. I wasn’t looking to get married. You do what you’re doing ‘cause you want to do it.”

·      How do you deal with the negativity and those opposed to same sex marriage, same sex lifestyle, etc.?

o   “I mostly ignore it. I have this theory that it’s as easy to give offense as it is to take offense, and that it is not productive to take offense. If people are really blatant, it’s not that I won’t speak up, but I find it not productive to look for insults to myself. For the most part I think we try to move through the world just as people.”

·      In what ways do you show pride in your sexuality/what does “pride in your sexuality” mean to you?

o   “I think that word [pride] came up in part because of the physical visibility of people whose sexual orientation was different than the norm. And so some of that visual flare on either side somehow got translated to ‘don’t change my narrative, this is my narrative and I’m proud of my narrative.’ Like I said, I’ve always had trouble with the definitions. I have in my life ‘cleaned up pretty good’ and been seen for the most part as a heterosexual female, and then people are surprised to find that I drive a tractor and am pretty good with a chainsaw. I’ve had some of my very close female friends say, ‘Audrey, you’re such a man,’ and I say, ‘No, I’m not a man, I’m doing the things I need to do to get the projects I’ve decided to do done.’ I feel like my particular problem with all of it is that we tend to genderize things rather than sometimes acknowledging individuality.”

·      What do you think the world needs more of?

o   Patience and quality response

·      Do you have any pet peeves regarding people’s attitudes towards same sex couples?

o   “No. I would say that my only attitude is to hope that people who are fussy will get over it. There are a lot bigger problems that we have than that.”

·      How have conditions for LGBTQ students, faculty and staff changed since you’ve been at UT?

o   “We have domestic partner benefits. Gary Luter is still fighting the good fight, which hasn’t changed, which is amazing to me, and he always gets my admiration. There is more gay and lesbian faculty now. I would say, really very recently, I detect a slight change in the culture, specifically the administration… a change in a good direction.”

·      What changes need to take place at UT to create a more friendly and welcoming environment for LGBTQ students, faculty and staff?

o   “Well, according to the student diversity survey, I think there’s still some work we could do with the lesbian faculty, staff and students. They and transgender students have reported less acceptance than gay men. I think, generally, in society transgender people probably have the most to contend with.”

·      What advice do you have to people struggling with accepting their sexuality, others accepting their sexuality, etc.?

o   “Find a safe place, find a happy place. A place that is safe and happy where you can be yourself. Always have that, because part of your life will be committed to ‘missionary’ work, and you need to be able to also get away from that and have a comfortable, safe place to be who you are. A place where you aren’t defending yourself. And try not to assume offense.”

·      Anything else you’d like to add…

o   “I’m really interested to see the women, not lesbians, but women, at UT finding value in their contribution here. I’ll leave it at that.”

 

Jake Racaniello

Junior Sociology Major

Identifies as: Assexual

What age were you when you “came out?”

o   “I’ve always known I wasn’t sexual. I didn’t know there was a label or a word until my second semester freshman year of college, and that’s when I discovered there was a word I could call myself. That would be the point when I started identifying as asexual.”

·      Was it difficult?

o   “Honestly, it was really relieving. Before, I had always thought there was something wrong with me personally. I thought it was maybe low testosterone or something physically or medically wrong, or something was broken, which didn’t lead to a great mental state for me. So finding out there was a community for it, and it wasn’t just me, and I wasn’t broken was really phenomenal.”

·      How did you discover asexuality?

o   “One of my friends, who is a lesbian, took me to a GLTSBA meeting. At the time I identified as straight and really didn’t think I had any business being there, but I went. I was more passive. I don’t want to use the word ally, because I was for gay rights but I wasn’t too active. So I went to a couple of the meetings and there was someone there who identified as asexual and I felt like that was a good word I could use.”

·      Was the community you were in, when you “came out,” accepting?

o   GLTSBA

o   “Which one coming out? You come out to so many people, so many different times in your life and you’re constantly coming because you’re always assumed to be straight. Every place you go you have to come out, or not come out depending on what the situation is like. It’s not just one coming out story, it’s a process, it’s multiple stories.”

o   “I had expressed concerns to my mother about not being very sexual. I’m technically still in closet where my parents are concerned, because I haven’t outright told them, which I feel like I will have to do someday, because honestly I could go my entire life without telling them, but I feel like one day I should probably come out to them.”

o   “I’m out to my friends in Florida, I’m really open. Back home in New York my friends really don’t know. They’re aware I’m not very sexual they just don’t know I identify as other than straight.

o   “People usually just assume I’m straight just as most LGBT people are assumed straight until they come out. I identified as straight in high school, when I was involved in theater, and there were people who thought I was gay. It bothered me mostly ‘cause of stereotypes. They shouldn’t be going off stereotypes. But it does bother me that people in this world are automatically labeled as straight.”

·      Does it really “get better?”

o   “Absolutely. It is hard to find a community, because compared to other sexualities we are a much smaller number. And that’s why organizations like AVEN, the Asexual Visibility and Education Network, came about online for people to get together and see there are other asexuals out there. There’s an ‘A’ in there [GLTSBA] somewhere and it doesn’t stand for ally. It is really difficult to find an in-person community, there are plenty of online communities.”

·      How do you explain your identification to people?

o   “Asexuals are people with little to no sexual drive.”

·      Is it deeper than that to you?

o   “It really is, because then you get into romantic relationships. Just because you’re asexual doesn’t mean you’re unromantic. There are homoromantic asexuals, heteroromantic asexuals, and panromantic asexuals. I identify as a panromantic asexual, which means I am attracted regardless of gender to an individual, because there are those who don’t fit into the gender binary, transgender, people who identify as either, people who identify as neither, so just not male or female.”

·      What advice do you have to people struggling with accepting their sexuality, others accepting their sexuality, etc.?

o   ‘The first step is to don’t think it’s a personal problem, you’re not broken, you’re fine, just learn to love yourself and learn to be yourself and learn to be comfortable with who you are around the people who you like. Find people who get that, and try to explain to the people who don’t, but don’t waste your time once you hit a wall. Personally, I think that’s the best approach, we have to make some concessions with explaining.”

·      Is being in an asexual in a romantic relationship difficult or easier for you?

o   “You would think it would be easier, if you’re in a relationship with someone who is the same romantic type and asexual. But, if you find yourself in a relationship with a sexual person; there are some asexuals who completely detest the idea of sex, I’m not one of those people, I’m fine with sex, it’s just not my cup of tea, there are other things I would rather be doing. It depends on the asexual, sex is different for everyone, and everyone defines sex differently. If I’m with a sexual partner I don’t mind engaging in sex, it’s just not for my benefit. There are some asexuals who say, ‘This is the line, I will not cross it,’ and that’s is fine too. But it is difficult, especially with a sexual person, getting to the point where you really trust them and know them before I’ll do that with them. It’s reconciling that, the asexuality with the sexuality, it’s difficult, finding someone who’s okay with that.”

·      What does “pride in your sexuality” mean to you?

o   “ I think pride is being able to stand up for being who you are in yourself especially in the sexual minority community, being stand up and say ‘We’re here too.’ Going out and trying to make changes and strides like with ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.”

·      What do you think the world needs more of?

o   “Activism, I think the world needs people to stand up and be advocates.”

·      Do you have any pet peeves regarding people’s attitudes towards asexuality?

o   “I really hate when people say ‘So you reproduce by budding?’ Asexual reproduction is not asexuality. Or when people say ‘You haven’t found someone good yet.’”

·      How have conditions for LGBTQ students changed since you’ve been at UT?

o   “When I first got here there wasn’t a lot of talk about sexuality, I think lately I’ve seen more activism. Last year we had the Chick-fil-A protest on campus. Honestly I think the campus is pretty welcoming, that’s not to say that there aren’t dangers, not to say it’s perfect. I think GLTSBA does a great job with they do, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”

·      What changes need to take place at UT to create a more friendly and welcoming environment for LGBTQ students, faculty and staff?

o   “Transgender people need to be more accepted on campus, with things such as gender neutral housing, because it’s hard for transgender students. I think LGBTQ sensitivity training would be beneficial.”

·      What does GLTSBA mean to you?

o   “It means so much. It’s such a great environment, they’re such great people, and they’re loving and fun and great to be around. They’re always open, always willing to learn, and they’re very tolerant. They’re constantly doing things to improve life for LGTBQ students on campus. It’s a great group to be a part of, and I’m so happy it exists.”

 

Merci’ Ovard

Sophomore Environmental Science Major

Identifies as: Lesbian

What age were you when you “came out?”

“Some people come out as one big step, and for others it takes time to come out. It comes in stages. There’s a point when you have to admit it to yourself, and I think when I admitted it to myself I was about 15. I always kind of knew, but that was when I accepted myself. I came out to my parents when I was 18, and ever since then I’ve been out of the closet.”

Was it difficult to come out?

“My biological mom was not okay with it, but with my dad and my stepmom I never really had to come out to them, they just kind of knew. They were supportive.”

“My friends were okay with it because they knew me, and I have good friends, but with the school itself was definitely not okay. When I came out at my school, a lot of people weren’t okay with it as far as teachers went. I had the valedictorian speech taken away from me. They originally said, ‘you have the speech, write it and prepare it,’ and then they told me ‘we can’t have you speak, we’re sorry,’ and it was right after I came out.

How do you deal with the negativity and those opposed to same sex marriage, same sex lifestyle, etc.?

“It hurts. It’s not fun to experience. But I’d say I’ve learned that there are going to be people who just don’t get it. It takes education, it takes time, it takes awareness. I guess a lot of times I choose to ignore it, and as I’ve gotten older and more comfortable I have started to speak out and say ‘hey that’s not okay, it’s discrimination, and it’s not okay.’”

What advice do you have to people struggling with accepting their sexuality, others accepting their sexuality, etc.?

“A lot of times when people come out, especially to their parents, it’s not safe. Just make sure it’s safe. There are people who end up living on the streets and people whose parents cut them off, so just make sure you’re in a safe place when you come out. As far as friends, if the friends you come out to are not okay, then they’re not someone you really want to have as a friend. I think the first big step is accepting it yourself.”

In what ways do you show pride in your sexuality? What does “pride in your sexuality” mean to you?

“I’d say it’s confidence. Having the confidence to hold your girlfriend’s hand in public or the confidence to tell people you’re gay. You have the comfort in your lifestyle that you don’t have to hide it. You no longer have to hide your lifestyle.”

What do you think the world needs more of?

“I think the world needs a more inclusive attitude.”

Do you have any pet peeves regarding people’s attitudes toward same sex couples?

“I feel like lesbians have a lot of stereotypes that just drive me nuts. The crude questions like, ‘how do you know if you’ve never been with a guy?’ That question is just not okay, and it’s annoying. I think the worst one is when people ask ‘how do lesbians have sex?’ Of all the questions, that’s just the one I dislike the most. I feel like you need to be really close and comfortable with someone to ask that. And people that are just rude about it. I’m not gay because it didn’t work with guys, it didn’t work with guys because I’m gay.”

How have conditions for LGBTQ students, faculty and staff changed since you’ve been at UT?

“I don’t think they’ve really changed much. I’d say that UT is definitely a really inclusive school. Everyone is very open about sexuality and pretty accommodating for it. I think from the start, UT has been supportive, and, if anything, they’ve just shed more light on it since I’ve been here.”

What changes need to take place at UT to create a more friendly and welcoming environment for LGBTQ students, faculty and staff?

“I can’t really think of anything. Of all the colleges I viewed and checked out UT was definitely I’d say one of the most gay friendly colleges.”

Gary Luter

Doctor of Speech, Theatre, and Dance &Director of Honors Program

Identifies as: Homosexual

·      How do you deal with the negativity and those opposed to same sex marriage, same sex lifestyle, etc.?

o   “I attempt to educate them. Visibility is very important. We have to be out and open and visible. Visibility is a problem the gay community has always faced. For the most part, our minority status is invisible, so we must become visible in being LGBTQ. It is necessary if there’s ever going to be progress. I think visibility is very important, because we are something of an invisible minority, and there would be no closet if we were visible”

·      What advice do you have to people struggling with accepting their sexuality, others accepting their sexuality, etc.?

o   “I’ve been the faculty advisor for GLTSBA for nearly 20 years. I’ve been to a lot of workshops and sponsored workshops and introduced “SafeZone Training” to this campus. I’ve been involved from the grassroots level at The University of Tampa with students and trying to develop an LGTBQ community for decades now, and what I tell the students is if you think coming out, especially to your parents is in anyway going to be harmful to you. And they’re going to no longer support you in getting a higher education at The University of Tampa, they’re going to cut off funding for you, you’ll no longer be welcomed at home, then don’t come out to them. You’ll soon be an adult, and you’ll be independent, and you can give whatever shape you want to your life. As long as your wellbeing is dependent upon the generosity of others, especially your parents, then don’t put that in jeopardy. I know it’s difficult for the students because they get here, college is unique experience, especially for sexual minority youth, they were uncomfortable in high school, uncomfortable in their parents’ home, it’s surprising how many of our students grew up in small towns or rural areas in the United States where there were not any sort of support services for LGBT youth and then they get here, a relatively good sized city, a mid-sized city, for the most part a gay-friendly place, and they want to come into their own personhood, but they know when they return home that that puts them at risk so these young people are conflicted, a lot of them are not out to their parents, my thinking, just from talking to them, that is the majority are not out to their parents. But on campus they’re out, and they’re active on campus and they want to be advocates for full civil liberties for gay and lesbian Americans, but they can’t proclaim that kind of advocacy at home because it puts them too much at risk. It creates conflict for them on a very deep level, and a very personal level. It’s one of the things that I think GLTSBA does is gives them an outlet to discuss these kinds of issues with other students who are in the same sort of predicament.”

·      In what ways do you show pride in your sexuality/what does “pride in your sexuality” mean to you?

o   “I don’t think people have pride in their sexuality. I think people have pride in fact they have overcome oppression that was related to their sexuality. I don’t think the women at Seneca Falls were taking pride in their gender, I’m thinking they were taking pride in the fact that they were overcoming oppression, that before they had no voice and now they were finding their voice, and they took pride in that. And it is the same with the civil rights movement I don’t know that they had pride in their skin color, I think they felt empowered and they were proud that they were speaking out and making a difference and advocating for their own individual liberties and human rights, and I think that’s the same with gay people, I don’t think they’re proud of their sexuality, I think they’re proud of everyone who has come before them. Wonderful people who spoke out and allies of gay and lesbian people who spoke out for the rights of gays and lesbians, so we have that heritage of civil rights leaders for the LGBT community and we’re proud of them and we’re proud to be a part of it and I think that’s what “gay pride” is. It’s pride in the strides we’ve made and it’s looking forward to the stride we still want to make. But it’s not that I’m proud that I’m attracted to other men. No we’re proud of the human and civil rights we’ve gained and the fact that we are longer as oppressed as we used to be, but obviously we don’t have full equality because there’s only same sex marriage in 13 states and DC. We take pride in those who became before us and who made changes that bettered our lives and the fact that we’re going to continue that particular progression and heritage, we’re going to carry the banner, which is the banner for equality not the banner for sexuality.”

·      How have conditions for LGBTQ students, faculty and staff changed at UT over the past four decades?

o   “They’re significantly better. I came here in 1977, which was 36 years ago, and things have improved in 36 years. It took 14 years but we finally have domestic partner benefits for faculty and staff, it was a 14-year struggle. We finally got it in 2008, after most of the universities and colleges and certainly Fortune 500 companies had already had it, so we were certainly behind the ball on that one. There now is a fairly strong gay and lesbian faculty group, The University of Tampa Gay and Lesbian Faculty Caucus, that did not exist when I came here. When I came here, I was here two weeks and the hair of the faculty committee took me aside and whispered to me, ‘you had better get a wife, and she had better join the faculty auxiliary and you had better take her to the faculty Christmas dance. I didn’t even know how he had figured out I was gay. That was sort of my welcome to The University of Tampa. Things have gotten better. So the university will have to accept me as I am and then I was told the president of the university, President Chesire, wanted me fired because I was gay, in the late ‘70s, but I’m still here. I don’t want any student to themselves at risk with their parents, to put their future in jeopardy, because one day they’re gonna grow up and they’ll be their own person and they’ll be making their own money, and they won’t be dependent upon others for financial assistance, they’ll be financially independent. But I would say to students, whether they’re at The University of Tampa or anyplace else, be out. Because I really do think if you’re closeted and fearful that’s when you invite prejudice. I think you’re on safer more secure ground if you’re open and out. And not everyone is accepting but you’re visible and you can educate them, and you may be educating them just by being visible. Just your visibility can be educating.”

·      What changes need to take place at UT to create a more friendly and welcoming environment for LGBTQ students, faculty and staff?

o   “I think at the grassroots, if I can use that phrase, among the students and among the faculty and staff it’s a pretty LGBTQ friendly place, and it’s open.”

o   “I remember the first time I ever heard someone of great authority mention gay people was in 1992 when Bill Clinton in his acceptance speech when he was nominated to run for president, and I was dumbfounded. Of course when Barack Obama made it a center piece of his speech comparing the Stonewall Riots, a gay liberation milestone in the United States, to Seneca Falls, it was remarkable and we felt like we were being recognized as citizens of The United States with full citizenship. The media is a mirror and it’s nice to see your image in the mirror. There was something about never seeing gay people in the media, then they must be these evil vile creatures. Now, gay people are reflected in the mirror and it gives you some assurance that you’re valued, and that’s what I felt when I heard Bill Clinton talk about gay people and again when Barack Obama talked about the gay community and how important it was to the United States. It would be nice if something similar happened at The University of Tampa, where someone of high authority would speak words that were welcoming and inclusive of the gay community at The University of Tampa, I’ve never heard that in my 36 years here. It would be nice to hear that sometime soon.”

o    “The University of Tampa Gay and Lesbian Faculty Caucus. It needs to be formalized a little bit; it just got underway last year. There’s always been gay and lesbian faculty here who communicate with one another about issues of fairness, how the gay and lesbian faculty are treated, and about being open, but it has become more formalized, and we do have periodic meetings. It is a movement of empowerment. We discuss dealing with benefits, domestic partner benefits, not that there is same sex marriage but the state of Florida does not recognize same sex marriage.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: