By Kristen Linsalata
Have you ever felt like you weren’t being the absolute authentic version of yourself? Perhaps you were holding something back from the people that you love, or even from yourself. What if the very thing that you were concealing was a topic that was a target for hate, discrimination, and unspeakable acts of violence? Would you expose it to the light, or keep it hidden forever? This is a decision that homosexuals of all socioeconomic areas of life face every day, even at LIU Post. The reluctance to come out as gay can either be exacerbated by the college environment or lessened, depending on the individual. However, while each person’s experiences differ, generations of the past, present, and future are bonded together by the experience of living as a sexual minority.
While people who publicly “come out” should be commended and are exponentially brave, those that choose to keep their sexuality concealed may do so because of the relentless discrimination that they could potentially face, and the wanton violence that some sexual minorities continue to experience on a daily basis across the globe. In some cases, homosexuals are even oppressed by their own governments. Even some states in the United States, one of the freest countries in the world, place restrictions on the rights of homosexuals. This is depicted by the 33 states that still ban same-sex marriage in the United States, according to the Washington Post article entitled, “The Changing Landscape on Same-Sex Marriages.”
After being treated as subhuman, feelings of hopelessness and despair ensue. In 2010, an 18-year-old Rutgers University freshman, Tyler Clementi, jumped off the George Washington Bridge after discovering his roommate used a webcam to record Clementi’s romantic encounter with another man without his consent. While tragic, Clementi is not alone. According to journal Pediatrics online, teens who self-identify as homosexual are five times more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to attempt suicide. Although Clementi is just one of many young gay people that have committed suicide due to the hate crimes against their sexuality, his case reminded the nation that the victimization of homosexuals is still a reality in the United States.
However, despite discrimination, there has been an outpouring of love and acceptance toward the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community. While their experiences are purely unique, the insights gathered, the bad along with the good, allow queer individuals to receive support and understanding from people of all sexual backgrounds. This helps to support the common goal of greater acceptance and equality for sexual minorities.
“I think that the United States is on a pretty clear path towards greater social acceptance of homosexuals, and polling data really supports this,” said Brian Sweeney, Assistant Professor of Sociology at LIU Post, who specializes in sexuality. “I mean, just in the past 10 years our attitudes towards gay marriage have changed a lot, and we’ve gone from a nation where the majority of citizens were against gay marriage to today where I think recent polling says it’s upwards of 55, 60, maybe even above 60 percent of Americans are in support of gay marriage.”
This acceptance allows students such as Taylor Inesta, a sophomore Music Education major in LIU Post’s Honors Program and member of The Rainbow Alliance on campus, to be able to live openly as a college student in the LGBT community. Inesta’s coming out journey began when her mother found out about her girlfriend when she was a sophomore in high school. Currently, Inesta feels accepted by her family and friends, and feels safe on LIU Post’s campus. It is a lesson to other, perhaps more “closeted,” members of the LGBT community on campus that coming out can be a positive experience that can enrich your life.
“As for how far [the LGBT community] has come, I think, on campus at least, we are basically where we need to be,” said Inesta. “A little bit of ignorance here and there, but nothing a quick question can’t fix. ‘Coming out’ shouldn’t even be a thing, unless heterosexual people are required to ‘come out’ as well. Sexuality should not have a standard. No one should be ‘straight until proven gay.’ Until that happens, though, I am looking forward to more people being comfortable and confident in who and what they are.”
Public figures in the media who have “come out” as a sexual minority have the unique ability to give young men and women like Inesta the confidence to be who they truly are.
Since 1921, women from across the nation have been competing to win the coveted crown of Miss America. Year after year, we witness beautiful, traditional women from various backgrounds competing for the title. But what happens when a contestant breaks this traditional stereotype? Former Miss Kentucky, Djuan Trent, a 2011 Miss America contestant, stated in her personal blog, “I am queer,” making her the first openly lesbian contestant to have competed at a national level.
“For the first time, after I had tried and retried to write that blog, this time it felt right,” Trent said when speaking about why she had chosen to come out on her Feb. 22 blog post entitled, “Turning ‘They’ Into “We.”
Trent revealed that she knew at a very young age, when she was in the 4th grade, that she felt differently than her heterosexual peers. She first came out to her uncle, who was the only known homosexual in Trent’s family, and described the experience as being extremely emotional.
“Middle school might have been the first time that I came into contact with another girl who expressed her attraction to me,” Trent revealed. “I grew up in a very strict Christian home. I went to a Southern Baptist school that was very conservative. I always knew that I felt differently, but it was never anything that I was able to explore or ever was exposed to.”
“One of the things that has been really amazing about coming out was having the ability to affect a lot of people’s lives,” said Trent. “During my year as Miss Kentucky, I was able to speak to children about goal setting, self-esteem, and anti-bullying. But now, I have a whole new wave of young people reaching out to me to thank me and to tell me that I gave them the courage to be themselves, and to come out as well.”
“I think that the general trend for the Miss America pageant will be to recognize just more diversity in women’s lives,” said Professor Sweeney. “I think that the pageant came about in the time where women’s lives were a little bit more restricted. Today, I think that just as women’s lives have grown more diverse and more dynamic, women are doing things that they weren’t doing 50 years ago. I think we’ll see the Miss America pageant perhaps mirror some of that social change and maybe even not even in just who the contestants are but in how the pageant is run and what kind of categories and what succeeding in those categories looks like.”
For some, “coming out” as a sexual minority is a rite of passage that plays an integral part of finding one’s self. This is something that many of us grapple with on a daily basis. We all have our own paths that we need to take. As one matures, you realize that people’s ignorant judgments and hateful words are no longer about the individual that they are discriminating against, but an issue lying dormant within them. However, we see with growing acceptance rates that the perpetuity of misguided judgments about queer individuals is beginning to diminish in the United States. Perhaps as acceptance continues to grow, our paths will begin to combine as one, creating an environment for greater understanding and growth in America and abroad.