The Continuing Struggle for Equality

As a freshman living on an all-girl’s floor in Ellis Hall last year, Laura Olson experienced her first outward display of homophobia — the word ‘queer’ scrawled on her dorm-room door.”No one really knew that I was gay,” Olson, a sophomore communications major said.

Once word got out that she was, a rumor started that she had a crush on a straight girl on the floor, which evidently led to her door being defaced.

Yet, despite feeling like her security was shattered at a time when she was trying to adapt herself to the college environment, Olson feels that overall, Castleton State College is an accepting campus.

“The response to what happened was very proactive, and I feel like people cared about making things better,” Olson said.

Support and acceptance

Olson says her fear is that in a liberal state at a liberal school like CSC, that people are under the impression that there is no need for Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender (GLBT) rights advocacy.

“They think that supporting clubs like One in Ten isn’t important because our campus is already liberal, but there are bigots everywhere,” she said. “Even if every person on campus was an ally, the GLBT community still does not have equal rights, and every person that fights for securing these rights is so important.”

Raymond Boule, a junior, thinks that CSC is very passive in its attempts to make the GLBT community feel comfortable.

“I think that CSC community means well in thinking that if we don’t make a big deal of it then it is still acceptable and there is no inequality,” Boule said.

Meredith Fletcher, who works as the staff assistant to the academic dean’s office, echoes Olson’s sentiments, saying that even though her and her partner live 100 percent like any other married couple, “there are still over 1,000 rights we are not afforded, mostly on the federal level.”

And even though they have a civil union, Fletcher said she feels as if she and her partner are still looked upon as second-class citizens.

“It would nice to be seen as equal by the straight people of the world,” Fletcher said.

The last decade

Fletcher believes that being gay or bisexual is more accepted now than it was when she was a student at CSC

“Ten years ago it was definitely a different atmosphere,” Fletcher said, recalling how she knew some people, all men, who were harassed for being gay, like getting pornographic tapes sent to them with “nasty notes and so forth.”

Fletcher said even her best friend in college became “gay by association” even though her friend was straight and had a boyfriend.

“Even though we were never together in a sexual way,” Fletcher said, “the girls on one of the other floors would stand on their balcony and throw snowballs at us and yell obscenities. And that was before anyone really knew about me!”

Lesley Hubbard, a sophomore with a major in social work, recalls how she once had a knife pulled on her one night while walking around her Massachusetts hometown.

Hubbard said she had no idea who the man was or how he even knew that she was gay.

“The amount of hatred this man had in him was terrifying,” said Hubbard, who describes herself as stereotypically “looking like a lesbian.”

“He called me a dyke and said if I ever came near his girl he’d slice my neck open.

“I had no clue who this man was or how he even knew that I was gay. He just assumed that I was a lesbian and because of that I was going to hit on his wife,” she said.

Fletcher again reflected back on the intolerance of yesteryear.

“People assumed so much back then and didn’t accept anything that was even remotely different. It was almost like they thought you could “catch” gay,” Fletcher explained. “Like if I sat in your chair and then you sat in it, you would be gay. It obviously doesn’t work that way and I think people are finally starting to see that.”

Coming Out

Olson, who was raised in a strict Christian home and was made to believe that “people like her were going to hell,” has not come out to her parents yet. She refers to this as the “daunting task” that she’s currently facing.

Boule was 16 and living in a very small town when he decided to come out at a group event that he attended every week.

“Within the five minute drive back to my house,” Boule said, “some of my family members had already heard what had happened. It spread like wildfire!”

Fletcher recalled being scared when she was coming out because of what that meant for her in society, as well as in her own family.

Boule explained that he doesn’t need all the legislation to be comfortable or to accept himself as being gay, but he does feel the importance of having an equal and fair society, one in which you are not judged based on your sexuality, which he describes as “something that is inherent as your skin color and not something you chose.”

Boule, who is now “100 percent out and fully comfortable,” went to his high school’s junior prom with his first boyfriend and was symbolized as the only gay person in his high school, and felt as if he was looked upon as a “science experiment.”

“The most difficult thing for me was not being scared about it all,” Boule said. “I had always been teased and at certain points I had had my life threatened so obviously in coming out I was very apprehensive as to the actions certain individuals would take.”

But all in all, he recalled coming out as “not all that bad for him,” even though he was initially frightened at the idea.

“Anybody who really knew me already kind of knew anyways,” said Boule, who describes himself as a “more feminine gay male.” “And I actually remember my guardians literally saying “Duh.”

Olson, who feels that based on society’s stereotypes, her appearance doesn’t automatically reflect that she’s a lesbian, plans to tell her parents over February break. This is still “tentatively the plan,” but she says as the date gets closer, the more nervous and doubtful she gets.

“I used to feel like I would never tell them if I didn’t have to, and now I feel like if I don’t tell them, I’m going to explode,” Olson said.

Hubbard is “completely out and open about her sexual orientation” and came out when she was 14 and a freshman in high school. She recalls that she faced a lot of hatred, but with that she also knew that her friends that stuck with her were true friends.

“I have no issues telling people that I am a lesbian,” Hubbard said. “However, it usually isn’t the first thing I tell people.”

Hubbard would rather people get to know her for who she is rather than just labeling her.

“Unfortunately,” she said, “When the first thing you tell people is that you’re gay that’s usually what will stick out in their mind as who you are. I’d rather them see me as a whole rather than one part of me.”

Olson says that when people find out she is a lesbian, it’s because she tells them.

“I never omit [my sexuality] for the sake of other people’s comfort or potential discomfort,” Olson said. “If I meet a straight female who is talking about her boyfriend or ex-boyfriend, I feel like I have just as much of a right to talk about my girlfriend or ex-girlfriend.”

Hubbard stressed that being gay does have a huge impact on who she is, but it isn’t all that she is.

“I want people to understand that we love the same as everybody else and feel the same as everyone else,” Hubbard said. “I also want people to understand that the community isn’t looking for just tolerance, we are looking for acceptance.

Hubbard, who is Catholic, would love to get married in a church someday. But she feels passing gay marriage has nothing to do with religion.

“It has everything to do with the rights and equality,” she said.

Boule thinks that with gay marriage comes the “religious debate,” yet he said he knows three Christian pastors who have already obliged to perform at his wedding ceremony when he chooses to wed.

“Something is obviously changing, and if not, there is always Spain,” Boule says, laughing.

Now (and the future)

Same-sex relationships have come out of the closet and they aren’t going to go back in.

In 1990, the U.S. Census Bureau reported 145,130 total gay and lesbian families: 81,343 male, and 63,787 female. The 2000 census numbers represent a 314 percent increase, yet The Human Rights Campaign estimates that the 2000 U.S. Census count of gay and lesbian families could be under-counted by as much as 62 percent.

Currently, Massachusetts is the only state that issues gay marriage licenses. Civil unions are issued in Vermont and Connecticut, but just three other states and D.C. have spouse-like privileges for unmarried couples.

Gay rights have gotten better but they have a long way to go.

Fletcher believes the real fight only started five or six years ago.

“Before civil unions came to be, there were a lot of people here in Vermont that were afraid that we were going to be taking over the state if we got any rights,” Fletcher said, explaining how some people put “Take Back Vermont” signs on their front lawns. “I think that since civil unions came to be, people have realized that we are not going to be any different than we were before. We are not going to flood every town holding hands and kissing in their front yard. We just want the same rights as every other human being.”

Hubbard thinks it’s going to keep getting better, but homophobia will remain in small parts.

“As long as racism has been looked down on racists are still out there,” she said.

Olson thinks that being GLBT is more accepted than it was five years ago, because people are becoming more familiar with the community and realizing that “we are normal people just like them.”

“The fight for civil rights takes time,” said Fletcher, who believes gay marriage will someday be legal. “Look at women’s rights and the rights African Americans had to fight for. They won their rights and we will too. People will come to realize that we are not out to get them.”

Boule echoes Fletcher’s opinion.

“We can only be so ignorant for so long,” he said. “We’ll crack eventually.”

“We are not monsters. We are simply people,” Fletcher said. “Just like everyone else.”

“We are not asking for special rights, we are asking for equal rights,” Olson said.

Fletcher can even envision the world she believes we’ll eventually live in.

“I look forward to the day where I can proudly hold my wife’s hand as we walk down the street, and no one will take a second look or make a comment,” she said. “I want to be able to not have to explain to everyone who she is to me. I know it is a long way off, but we’ll get there– someday.

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