‘Straight Talk About Being Gay’ panel sparks conversation

Deanna Crusco

The Gay Straight Coalition hosted an event entitled Straight Talk About Being Gay On Thursday, April 26 in the East Dougherty Lounge. The event was co-sponsored by the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice and the Office of Student Life. Recent graduates of the University came to talk about their experiences being gay, and discuss issues that face the gay community in our society today.

Dr. Bernard Gallagher of the Sociology Department introduced the five panelists, and encouraged students to ask questions without hesitation. The goal of the event was to end the myths that people wrongfully hold about gays, and to help inspire a community of acceptance and sensitivity where people feel comfortable engaging in conversations with anyone, regardless of their sexuality.

The event was completely packed, except for a few empty seats in the first row, and one panelist Rich, a recent graduate from the University said that he could already see a difference in the event from the past few years because of how full the room was.

He encouraged students to raise their hands and lean into the discomfort they may feel concerning some of the questions they have.

“I know a lot of people that are really supportive, but there’s still people who may have some unanswered questions of things they do not understand or don’t ask because they’re afraid it may be offensive,” Rich said.

He started to talk about some of the daily reminders he encounters as a gay man that constantly remind him he is not “normal.” For example, if he wanted to sign a lease with his boyfriend, he has to worry about how the landlord will react to having a homosexual couple in his building.

If he wants to hold his boyfriend’s hand in public or even on our campus, he consistently thinks about how others will react, an inconvenience many straight people do not have to carry the burden of having.

The second speaker, Jess, who graduated from the University in 2006 and is currently earning her PhD in Sociology at Rutgers, discussed her experiences being a part of the LBGTQ community.

When addressing the audience members who are straight, she said, “You guys tend to have a bit more privilege than those of us who are not straight.”

Although recent court cases and media coverage may make it seem that gay marriage is the only important issue in the fight for equality, Jess made it clear to the audience that a member of the LBGTQ community is never treated the same as a heterosexual in our society, which proves we have not made as much progress as we think.

“There are a billion and one thing’s that we go through every day that remind us we are still second class citizens,” Jess said. “For instance, I can’t go into a greeting card store and find a greeting card that reflects my fiancé and I’s relationship.”

This small instance of inequality is something a straight person would not even think twice about, but for Jess and the other panelists, it is just another issue our society must address in the future. She even commented on how uncomfortable it can be to work in an environment where people just assume you are dating someone of the opposite sex, when in reality that is not the case for every person.

“We constantly have to come out,” Jess says. “We’re constantly in these situations where we’re reminded that being straight is the norm in this society and being straight comes with an array of privileges we do not have.” Each panelist made a point of commenting on the idea of making assumptions. To assume someone leads one kind of lifestyle just because you do, or just because most people you know do, does not mean that everyone leads that same kind of life. It also doesn’t make someone any less of a person just because they choose to live a certain way, and it certainly does not mean they are not normal.

One student who is pursuing a career in the medical field asked the panelists how she could better prepare herself to interact with all different kinds of patients in a respectable way. Each shared stories that once again depicted how inconsiderate and presumptuous some people in our society can be. Jess advised that doctors should go out of their way to make each patient feel comfortable, and make sure to ask questions sensitively without making any assumptions.

“Lesbians often have higher rates of breast cancer and higher rates of cervical cancer, because we don’t go for regular checkups because it’s awkward,” she said. No one should have to put their health at risk just because of society’s tendency to make rude assumptions.

Before the event was over, panelists addressed the question that is often brought up at a Catholic institution when addressing the topic of sexuality. One question read, “Sadly there often is contention between religion and homosexuality. Could you speak to your own religious beliefs and describe how if at all your sexual orientation has influenced your faith or spirituality?”

Father Joe Calderone, O.S.A., a member of the GSC Steering Committee, spoke about reconciling the relationship between being a Catholic and being gay. “In the Catholic Church there are a lot of teachings, and they’re not all equal,” he said. “The most important teachings are what we call the creed, which you recite in mass on Sunday, and the second most important teaching is that you must follow your conscience. We believe that we are made in God’s image and likeness. We’re most like God where our consciences are. Nobody can tell you what’s in your conscience except yourself. That’s where God speaks to you.”

Calderone spoke to the tertiary teachings that address moral issues, which is often plagued by the views of the hierarchical institutions that exist within the church. “The problem is in the intuitional religion the hierarchy sees themselves as the official teachers and they’re afraid you have a bad conscience, and they have to teach you how to make that conscience right,” Calderone said.

This is not the right method of the Church though, because it seems more like indoctrination rather than education. If we trust that God speaks through each of us and lives within our souls, then we can be honest with ourselves.

“Season your conscience and make it who you are,” Calderone said. “Integrate it and own it. Pope Francis is trying to put that out there in a popular way. He’s saying look at what’s most important, you’re important, your conscience is important. If you’re truly looking for God and how to be a good person, who am I to judge.”

Calderone’s words show how important it is for people to educate themselves; not only regarding religious issues, but for the event as a whole it is important to be aware. Be aware of the fact that everyone is different; your experiences are not necessarily the same as someone else’s. This does not make any of us more or less important though. Sensitivity and acceptance must be fostered in order to overcome the discrimination that still wrongly exists within our society. If we can teach this to children from a young age, maybe we will be able to finally breed a generation where acceptance and equality overpower everything else.