Living with prejudice

Hallie Thomas

Hallie Thomas

Dr. Beverly King, an openly gay psychology professor on campus, has been teaching in Brookings since 1997. She has only received one piece of hate mail.

“Thank you for all the work you have been doing against God and Christianity and for Satan and his gay and lesbian followers.”

Even though it’s just a single E-mail, the sentiment is strong.

It arrived October 2000, after the Collegian ran a story about a paper she wrote on the stigmatization of children with gay or lesbian parents.

She still has it saved in her account. It’s a reminder of what she has faced, and may still be up against.

“I believe that anytime you love someone, it is not a sin,” she said, “I detest the using of religion to promote hate.”

The behavior of the E-mail’s author is an example of heterosexism. Because they believe sexual love between members of the opposite sex is the only acceptable option in society, heterosexists are part of the reality that every gay or lesbian person faces upon coming out.

Someone spat on Angela Baxter’s car last month. The sophomore human development major’s car was parked at a friend’s house, when an unknown motorist pulled up in another car and tried to engage her in a conflict. She was told the gesture was provoked by the Gay Pride stickers on her back window.

“It takes a small mind to be prejudiced,” she said.

Her friend Selina VanLaecken, who also majors in human development, was involved in a more violent encounter.

In 1996, while living in Watertown, Selina and a former girlfriend were returning home from a night out when an intoxicated man followed them to their house. The man verbally assaulted the pair and then attacked Selina’s girlfriend. She sustained several injuries, including a concussion, after he kicked her head repeatedly against a concrete curb. He was at least a foot taller than her and the authorities never held him accountable.

“Because of who we were, nothing was done. Ever,” VanLaecken said.

Although extreme, these incidences are examples of how some heterosexists react when they encounter members of the gay/lesbian community.

Other reactions are more subtle.

Rather than being threatened, Dr. King has mostly felt avoidance on campus. She feels that there is an air of discomfort around her studies on gay/lesbian issues. She has had several studies published, but she finds that certain campus publications are reluctant to run stories on her work.

“I think they don’t want to come across as bragging about it.” she said.

Dr. King has also been informed that some students choose not to take her classes because of her orientation.

Avoidance is a quiet response to homosexuality that occurs not only among heterosexists, but among homophobics as well.

Homophobia is not so much a conviction against the gay/lesbian community, but more of a general fear or discomfort concerning them. Homphobics are unsure about how to deal with homosexuals and choose to avoid any situation that may prove uncomfortable.

VanLaecken experiences similar reactions from her parents.

“My mother told me to be careful about what I say. They’re supportive as long as it is not acknowledged,” she said.

It has also been hard for Angela Baxter and her family. She has recently reconciled with her mother after going through a period of estrangement following her coming out.

Negative responses from family members, as well as peers, are consequences that young homosexuals have to deal with. Dr. Beverly King advises caution.

“Be selective who you come out to,” she said, “It is more psychologically healthy if you’re out, but think carefully and be ready to deal with the consequences.”

Rainbow Connections is a student group organized to provide support for gay and lesbian students on campus. This month a potluck supper is being held.

Baxter, who is the group’s president, encourages people interested to contact her. She feels that education and self-pride are important are key in changing people’s mindsets on homosexuality.

Emotional responses to acts of heterosexism and homophobia vary, but with Angela Baxter they’re very clear.

“Oh yeah, I feel pride,” she said, “Because initially it took a long time for me to accept myself. There’s also some pity, because they don’t even understand that the people they care about could be gay. They don’t even have an open mind.”

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#1.887183:1143672374.jpg:gaylady.jpg:Selina Van Laecken, human development major, dealt with a violent form of homophobia when she and a former girlfriend were attacked in Watertown. Homophobia and heterosexism are both prevalent attitudes that gays and lesbians have to deal with.: