Editors’ note: The language used here is explicit and may be offensive to some. However, victims of this language encourage its use so readers can understand what they sometimes must endure.
As the shirtless David Thompson and his male friend were holding hands and walking back to the dorms after an Undie Run, a student flicked a lit cigarette at Thompson’s friend’s bare chest by the volleyball courts in between Pralle-Sodaro Hall and Henley Hall, then repeated a string of homophobic slurs at them:
“You f– faggots, you f– disgust me. I want you to f– die.”
Students from the LGBTQIA community (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender/Transsexual, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, and Ally) generally feel safe on campus because of programs and clubs such as Safe Space and Queer Straight Alliance (QSA). There is, however, a presence of subtle homophobia that surfaces just often enough that they know the problem is still around, and they want to see more done about it.
Sometimes the offending parties aren’t even aware of how derogatory their language is. They jokingly use “faggot” and “gay,” or inadvertently convey subtle, disrespectful attitudes toward the LGBTQIA community.
“It makes you feel like you’re not a person sometimes,” said Thompson, a junior film production major and Diversity & Equity program assistant who identifies himself as a gay man.
“This just shows that we have more work to do. The subtleness of the homophobia makes it much harder to correct,” Thompson said.
Sonja Lund, a freshman theater major, identifies herself as a panromantic lesbian. (That’s someone who identifies as a female and is emotionally attracted to everyone, but only sexually attracted to women). She feels safe and accepted at Chapman, but she’s heard the remarks too.
“My roommate’s friend thought we were dating so he told them that I was a lesbian and his friend said ‘Ah, cool, threesome,’” Lund said. “Those comments upset me because, for a lot of guys, that is all they see a lesbian as—a porn fantasy.”
Safe, yes. But accepted? Some do feel left out.
“No one ever talks about homosexuality because the heterosexual community assumes that everyone is straight,” said Michael Boone, president of QSA. “Our voice isn’t heard at all.”
Many members of the LGBTQIA community say that transgender identities need to be talked about more, as there are very few, if any, transgenders on campus.
“My friend is scared of coming out because they are scared of being so visible and getting negative reactions on a campus where there aren’t many transgender people,” Lund said.
Kevin O’Brien, associate professor of English and coordinator of the Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual (GLB) studies minor, sees this homophobia on campus and thinks that it can be overcome with education, visibility and safety.
“As educators, we need to teach about influential homosexual people and homosexual relationships. People often miss these opportunities,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien thinks that the Safe Space program on campus is a wonderful tool to improve education and visibility.
Safe Space is the biggest support program on campus for the LGBTQIA community and is coordinated by Diversity & Equity Initiatives. About 450 people have been trained in its workshops since its creation in 2004. Safe Space provides students, faculty and staff with advocacy power through committees, discussion groups Stone Wall and Queer People of Color (QPOC), and several kinds of Safe Space workshops, where trainees learn more about the LGBTQIA community and how to act within it.
Bonnie King, a lesbian freshman theater and accounting major, said Safe Space taught her to be more accepting of members of the community when she identified as a heterosexual before realizing she liked women.
“When I considered myself straight, I thought that all gay people were a certain way and I couldn’t understand why they wanted what they did,” King said. “Safe Space taught me that it was okay to have those feelings, but that when people come out, you need to be accepting and supporting of them because they need to feel like they are not alone.”
Trainees are awarded with a placard, button or stickers after they finish the initial two and a half hour training to show people that they are Safe Space trained.
“When I see decals on people’s doors that say ‘Safe Space’ I know that that’s a person I can go to for help and no questions asked,” Lund said.
The Diversity & Equity Initiatives on campus are able to meet almost all of the demands of students, said Erin Pullin, program coordinator of Diversity & Equity Initiatives. They do have to turn a few students away though.
“There’s one of me and seven students, so we do the best with what we have to meet the needs of the students, but there are times we have to say no to things because we don’t have the capacity,” Pullin said.
Some students say that having a LGBTQIA center would greatly benefit Chapman. Schools such as University of California, Irvine and University of California, Santa Cruz have resource centers specifically for the LGBT community.
Chapman doesn’t have a center, but it does have a home base.
A popular resource on campus that is not run by the university is QSA. The club hosts awareness and social events, has social outings and works with other social justice clubs. It also holds meetings in which members discuss various LGBTQIA issues every week, according to Club President Michael Boone.
“QSA gives me a place to go every week where I’m understood,” Lund said.
Some community members on campus see QSA as more of a social resource than anything else.
“QSA has a very big focus on partying, which is cool if you are identified, but if you’re like me and are not sure, then go to Safe Space, Stone Wall, or Queer People of Color,” said Brynn Nelson, a queer sophomore theater technology major.
Along with the clubs and programs available, King thinks that political apathy on campus contributes to most students’ acceptance of the LGBTQIA community.
“We have progressive students and our campus is not very political, so both sides are looked at equally and there are not really any intense extremists,” King said.
Lund agrees that the student body is generally accepting: “I feel perfectly safe being myself on campus.”
King does, however, feel some discomfort within her accounting major.
“In accounting it’s assumed that I am straight, which I understand because I don’t look gay, but it’s difficult to know what is professional and what could affect me in terms of working in a business,” King said. “The camaraderie isn’t there in accounting and I still don’t want to be judged.”
Although he sees homophobia, faculty’s O’Brien thinks that Chapman is much safer than its surrounding area.
“Orange County is a more conservative county than most in California and I don’t really feel safe or comfortable in it,” O’Brien said. “Chapman is an island of safety in the county.”
Still, there are incidents like the one Thompson had to face.
“QPOC and QSA have had posters torn down, members of the community are treated differently, left out, and are only seen as gay and lesbian,” he said. “People make it up to be like we’re fighting for a concept of love, which is true. But more than that, we’re fighting for people’s lives.”
O’Brien is fighting homophobia in his own way as the coordinator of the GLB minor. The minor offers students the opportunity to analyze facts, theories, research and realities concerning lesbianism, male homosexuality and bisexuality, according to the Chapman website.
Although there are only nine students with the minor currently, O’Brien thinks that there is a big interest in it and that more people would declare the minor if more teachers offered to teach GLB-focused courses. The importance of the classes within the minor is that they not only educate the people taking the classes, but the rest of campus as well.
“It’s a trickle-down effect that happens. You might have gone to a high school where it was acceptable to be homophobic through speech, but suddenly, at Chapman, that’s not going to fly because people have been educated,” O’Brien said. “The more visible homosexuality is, the less homosexuals are thought of as the ‘other.’”