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Wednesday October 18, 2000

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Living the alternative student life

Headline Photo

By Hillary Davis

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Campus acceptance, resources available for gay UA

With a neon orange sticker proclaiming "dyke every day" affixed on her shirt and her girlfriend at her side, UA English junior Nyla Moujaes is out of the closet, proud, and does not hesitate to let everybody know it.

Moujaes' confidence, which she partly attributes to her physical strength, is not easily cowed, no matter how people react to her outward appearance.

"I am oftentimes stared at, particularly because of my short hair and athletic build, not because I have rainbow flags streaming off of my clothes," Moujaes said. "Our culture knows not what to think of a woman who isn't pressured by societal norms. I'm not afraid to have short hair or wear 'boys'' clothes because someone might not take a liking to me - in fact, I am empowered by my appearance.

"People look at me and are intimidated because they see an autonomous, confident woman who allows nothing to obstruct her path."

Pre-computer science sophomore David Tarico, a slender, well-spoken man, said that despite what he sees as a "gay-friendly" environment around the University of Arizona and Tucson, he, along with the rest of the local gay community, faces social struggles.

"There are still many individuals who, for various reasons, do not accept LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered) people, and some of these individuals are rude or even downright hostile," he said.

"I have never felt comfortable holding hands with my boyfriend on campus or showing any kind of public display of affection. Arizona in general tends to be a conservative state."

Ignorance and understanding

Moujaes and Tarico are just two people at the UA who are gay and active in the community, focused on seeing to the social acceptance of homosexuals.

Tarico, who realized his sexuality in high school but was not completely open about it until college, said he has been able to avoid severe homophobia.

"I've been lucky and never had many problems," he said. "I did have one good friend who was very religious who wasn't able to accept my sexuality. Unfortunately, that created a lot of tension between us and (the) friendship was never the same."

"I've also been offended hearing people use gay slurs or make jokes, but this is all minor compared to the things others have endured," he added.

Moujaes also said much of the prejudice she has faced has been non-violent, but she still encounters ignorance.

Moujaes recalled a class debate she engaged in about racism and heterosexism, where another student told her that being a lesbian was not as difficult as being black, because she could easily "hide" her homosexual traits.

"I would not have had such a problem with this ignorant statement if she hadn't said before that it was virtually impossible 'to determine whether or not someone was gay' because there is no exact profile," Moujaes said. "Amusingly enough, this particular student completely contradicted herself. First she said appearance and demeanor were not determinants of sexuality, and she then proceeded to tell me that there was, in fact, a way to 'act' gay and that I didn't have to act that way if I didn'' want to."

Despite her classmate's statements, Moujaes said she would still respect all of humanity, and would appreciate the same in return.

But whether or not ignorance and homophobia ever cease, Moujaes said the community can withstand the burdens it faces.

"Homophobia affects the gay community only on a surface level," she said. "We know that we are no less human than anyone else, and we do not give up so easily as to let ignorance stop us short of our sights."

Tarico, who is active with the campus organizations Pride Alliance and Safe Zone, said the UA gay community can be aided in reaching this potential at the university level.

"From an administrative standpoint, (the) University of Arizona is sensitive to GLBT concerns," said Tarico, listing clubs, activities and the Committee on LGB studies as supportive outlets for UA gays. "There groups on campus where one can find accepting people, and there are many people out there trying to make a difference."

Tarico added, however, that the gay and gay-sympathetic community is nonetheless small.

"The problem is that this community of accepting people is a subset of the larger campus community, and arguably, is a small subset," he said. "Activities designed to increase public awareness can only do so much, and the attitudes of students can't be regulated by policy."

"Homophobia cannot be regulated away - it goes away when a person has a relative, teacher, or friend...who comes out to them. It goes away by knowing someone queer and realizing they are real people with real feelings - not the monsters people can imagine them to be," Tarico added.

"But this doesn't mean policies and organizations don't have a role, because they do. They provide crucial support to queer people as they struggle to accept themselves and deal with the problems they are confronted with."

Finding support

Pride Alliance, the official bisexual, gay and lesbian program sponsored by the Associated Students of the University of Arizona, allows any student to become involved, said volunteer coordinator Jonna Lopez.

Lopez said about 40 people regularly attend Pride Alliance meetings, and 160 people subscribe to the organization's Listserv.

The club's office in the Memorial Student Union is almost always full, Lopez added.

"There are 10 people in here at any given time," she said.

Pride Alliance sponsors events such as Coming Out Week, speaker panels and HIV tetsing, and also provides a library and hang-out for gay students to "interact in a safe environment where you know you'll be accepted," Lopez said.

In addition to Pride Alliance, students may join Lesbian and Gay Rights Advocates - a group at the UA College of Law that promotes awareness of legal issues which impact members of the gay community - and LGBTGrads, an organization that focuses on the social and academic needs of gay graduate students.

For gay and lesbian faculty and staff, there is OUTReach, a networking organization, and the UA Library Allies of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual and Transgendered Staff, which offers awareness programs and workshops for library staff, and support for its gay employees.

Lopez said Pride Alliance often works with these other groups, which she said are helpful for focusing on specific demographic groups - although Pride Alliance is open to all students, the group's focus is primarily udergraduates.

Straight supporters may also volunteer with the campus groups - support for a common cause is the criterium for working with organizations like Pride Alliance, Lopez said.

Members of the gay UA community may also become involved with off-campus groups.

Wingspan, Tucson's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community center, 300 E. 6th St., offers support groups, community event planning and domestic violence support.

Local chapters of Lesbian Avengers, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network - nationwide support, education, and advocacy organizations - also exist.

Even though he is active in the community, Tarico admitted that meeting a companion can be challenging, but no more so than for any person.

Even though he may not always feel comfortable showing public affection to his boyfriend, Tarico said he is confident that his liberty to live loving other men will not restrict him.

"I see myself living a life just as happy and fulfilling as anyone else, and this is thanks to all the work of the activists before me who have helped bring about the level of acceptance we currently have," he said. "Not to say the work is done, but I'm very glad we've come this far."