I recently discovered Proceed at Your Own Risk, a great queer blog filled with insightful posts and pictures of extremely hot men. The blog had me at "hot men" but that "insightful posts" stuff really sealed the deal.
I was browsing through his posts when I read this one about the Faculty Senate at the University of Tennessee passing a new resolution which hopes to provide areas on campus where queer students can feel safe.
You see, I am an alumnus of The University of Tennessee at Knoxville and actually was one of the students who created what was at the time referred to as the Gay & Lesbian Student Union.
Not to toot my own horn (though if I could reach, I would never leave my apartment), but this was 1988, I was 18 years old (I'll save you the math, I'm 37), and in order for this union to be officially recognized by the university, a certain number of students (I believe it was 10) had to sign a document in favor of it's creation.
1988. I had barely come out of the closet. Sure, I was already sneaking into the local gay bar with a fake "Members Card," but I wasn't out to my mother. I wasn't out to anyone at my job. I wasn't out to a lot of my friends. And this was my hometown - - in the South, where secrets are rooted out and shared with the congregation over coffee during the social hour. If I signed this document, it was one step closer to God and everybody knowing I was gay.
But it was important. It was important for us - - gay and lesbian students - - to have this organization. So, I signed.
And immediately, I was one of the officers of the GLSU. An incredibly naive officer of a gay student union.
At our first officer's meeting, I read my first Advocate Magazine and when I saw an ad in the back that said, "Daddy Seeks Boy," I said out loud...
"Oh, this is so sad. This poor man has kicked his son out of the house for being gay and now he's trying to find him by placing an ad in the back of a gay magazine.
"Wait... There's a lot of these. Oh... OH!..."
"Wait... There's a lot of these. Oh... OH!..."
That's how naive I was. And I continued to be naive. We all did. Only the naivety of a bunch of 18 year olds can lead them into the middle of UTK's Student Union and have them walk into a room clearly designated for gays and lesbians on a campus filled with people who not only think of homosexuals as "religious abominations," but also as punching bags when we "threw our fagginess in their face."
But God bless those meetings. We found each other. We found best friends and boyfriends and band members and occasionally a frat boy coming to terms with his true self. We found our voices.
And we bickered. And we fought. And the meetings became less radical and more "Oprah: After the Show." But just like so many things in gay culture, we may have strayed away from the union at times and we may have bad mouthed it and other members, but we knew it was there. For us. When we needed it.
Especially when a few of those initial members died, hard and fast, from AIDS complications. "Complications." Makes it sound like a tricky math problem and not the horrific plague that it is. But when The Plague took our own from us, we had that room and the love of friends to help us through the loss.
In time, I went from the safe haven of that one room to the safe haven of "The Theatre," which is just as pretentious and phony as it sounds. But still, there were queers there. And I could be myself.
The theatre brought me to Chicago. To blocks and blocks of a Gay Ghetto. To a place where I could hold my boyfriend's hand as we walked down the street - - as long as we walked on either Halsted or Broadway and didn't go south of Belmont or north of Addison.
And now, I live that ghetto. Or at least, what's left of that ghetto. These days, the night may still belong to the "thump-thump" of club music and porn star strippers, but the day belongs to the neo-yuppie mommies with their iPhones, their lattes and their double strollers. Amidst Mayor Daley's grossly phallic "Gay Pylons," these mommies all have that look on their face that seems to say, "Thanks so much for making it all so pretty, but that store window is really inappropriate for my child, so can you just go away?"
Still, I'm safe here. I understand the need to be in a safe place. But I'm a bit torn by the idea of gay and lesbian "Safe Zones" at my alma mater.
As UTK's newspaper, The Daily Beacon reports...
"The safe zones will offer counselling, opportunities to network with others, resources and encouragement.
"Rod Ellis, associate professor of social work and chairman of the Faculty Senate’s Faculty and Staff Benefits Committee, sponsored the safe zone resolution. He agreed coordination would be a key role of the safe zone.
"'Already established on nearly 200 campuses across the U.S., these centers offer supportive conversation, connection to campus resources, periodic support meetings and educational activities,' Ellis said.
"While the exact location of the safe zone has not been decided, Ellis said there are some defining characteristics of safe zones.
"'Safe zones are typically marked by clear symbols such as a purple triangle and are staffed by personnel who are trained to respond supportively to those who seek refuge,' Ellis said.
"Ellis said these staff members are often referred to as 'allies,' people who are not LGBTQ, but who are supportive of the special situations the population sometimes experiences."
Maybe I'm just being a bit dense, but aren't the services that a "Safe Zone" would provide to queer or questioning students - - "supportive conversation, connection to campus resources, periodic support meetings and educational activities" - - aren't those services already available at any meeting of the Lambda Student Union?
And why do these gay students need straight "Allies" when other gay students could help them just as well? Or possibly more.
Don't get me wrong, I'm all for more services and support for queer students. But shouldn't the ENTIRE CAMPUS be considered a "Safe Zone" for ALL students, regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, nationality, religion, age, disability or sexual orientation?
No. That won't happen at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, because at UTK, queer students and faculty are NOT protected by the university’s non-discrimination policy.
So, maybe a "Safe Zone" is a start.
I just thought I started that already. Nearly 20 years ago.
We've not come a long way, baby.