Weathering the campus climate

He wears a Polo T-

shirt, Gap jeans and

an extra sweater tied around his waist. He sits next to you in classes. He laughs at jokes that could be considered "un-P.C." in the gay community. He is an active member in his fraternity.

By all outward appearances, Jon (not his real name) seems to be an average college student, intent on being involved and succeeding in classes. But there is something subtly different about him. Something you can't see. Jon is gay and very few people know it.

As with some non-heterosexual students, Jon is leery of "coming out of the closet." While Jon is uncomfortable with the idea of letting his homosexuality be known, he insists that it is for personal reasons. It's not that he is afraid of whether or not he will be accepted he simply isn't ready.

"It's not a sickness, it's not a disease, it's just no big deal," he said. "It's just one of my characteristics."

"The University of Arizona strives to create a campus environment which understands, fosters, and embraces the value of diversity among students, faculty, and staff. Diversity encompasses differences in age, color, ethnicity, gender, national origin, disability or handicap, race, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background or Vietnam Era Veteran status. This institution is committed to the belief that all persons are valued for their individual characteristics, talents, and contributions."

According to the University of Arizona's Non-Discrimination Statement, the UA is committed to all persons regardless of sexual orientation.

And in comparison to other campuses, the UA is fairly progressive.

Like other campuses, the University of Arizona has a vocal group of bisexuals, gays and lesbians, but unlike other universities, they are an integrated group of the student government.

As part of Associated Students of the University of Arizona, the Bisexual, Gay and Lesbian Association hosts numerous on-campus activities to increase public awareness and assist in education.

Dean of Students Melissa Vito said increased awareness of homosexuality on campus over the past few years has largely been a result of BGALA's efforts.

"I know BGALA's presence has impacted the campus community," she said. "Regardless of what each individual student is thinking, at least they are out there thinking about the issue."

Bill Blatt, BGALA director, said he hopes activities like "National Coming Out Day" and this week's Bisexual, Gay and Lesbian Awareness Week, make people think about their sexuality.

Shannon McLean, a psychology senior, said National Coming Out Day is often perceived as BGALA forcing their opinion on the campus.

"The realistic view is that we don't think that's what's going on," she said. "For one day we're out there, just being there."

But Jon said while putting a pink door (and the subsequent rainbow door) on the Mall is important, education is what needs to be the main focus.

"Homosexuals are generally not people who are dressed in drag," he said. "It's grandparents, neighbors, someone you admire. Homosexuality doesn't know race, religion, politics or background, it just exists."

And although many students

recognize that homosexuality

and bisexuality exists, it is not always widely accepted or understood.

McLean, a bisexual who "came out" her sophomore year, said she fields many questions about her sexual orientation as part of the BGALA speaker's panel as well as in her personal life.

"Anytime there is something different about you, you are going to get questions," she said. "I believe the same thing happens to African Americans. What does it feel like to be black? What does it feel like to be gay?"

But McLean said she would rather answer the questions and dispel common misconceptions.

Blatt agrees.

"I believe bigotry is based on ignorance," he said. "We joke around after the speaker's panel because most of the questions are the same. But I don't mind. I think it's great when the audience leaves saying, 'Hey, they look just like everyone else.'"

Jon also believes the public has become more accepting but only because they are part of a politically correct trend.

While Vito generally sees the

campus as a positive

community, she said she is aware that at times it is not a hospitable atmosphere.

"Students don't necessarily feel comfortable coming out of the closet," she said. "We still have a long way to go."

Vice President of Student Affairs Saundra Lawson Taylor also said she believes there is still a pervasive negative attitude toward gay students, faculty and staff members.

"There is still a lot of apprehension about how open to be and how safe it is to be open," she said. "There is still not the kind of acceptance that I think I'd like to see happen for those students."

Blatt said he neither gets positive feedback or negative feedback. On a day-to-day basis, he gets no feedback.

"The climate on this campus is somewhere between apathy and acceptance," he said. "For some people their attitude has gotten better, for others it's just simply a matter of being (politically correct)."

He said the college campus is usually one of the most accepting types of communities because students are generally more liberal and more likely to discuss issues.

"Most people are in an exploratory phase," he said.

But Blatt has seen his share of discrimination. While sitting in the BGALA office wearing a "Lesbian Avengers" T-shirt, he recalled an incident where a gay friend was harassed in his residence hall.

"The Resident Assistant was reluctant to do anything about it," he said. "It's okay to call someone a 'fag', but if a black person had been called a 'nigger', the offender would have been thrown out."

McLean has heard of similar experiences.

"One of my friends was walking down the street wearing a T-shirt with a pink triangle, and this guy deliberately walked by and yelled 'Dyke' at her," she said.

"It's only when it is pointed out or something happens that you realize you are different," she said. "Most of the time I feel like a normal person."

Jon said the most difficult part of being homosexual and not "out of the closet" is having to "maintain a sort of fake friendship with people who would not be my friends if they knew."

He said he realizes that it is impossible for anyone to share ideologies.

"I'm not expecting everyone to understand or relate, just appreciate it and know it's there," he said. "It really is irrelevant whether people accept it."

Blatt said one of the largest misconceptions played out in the media is that all homosexuals are drag queens and leather lovers, but "they exist as fringe groups, they aren't a representation of the whole."

While Taylor said she thinks the university has a long way to go in creating a truly comfortable atmosphere, she believes the UA is more progressive than others.

"Given how conservative Arizona is, the UA campus is relatively progressive," she said. "But we must keep vigilant on how we are serving all students and that we reinforce that there is a need for education, a need to dispel misnomers and stereotypes. We must also encourage programming in residence halls, fraternities and sororities."

Although Blatt, McLean and Jon are all encouraged by the administration's involvement, they would rather it just be a non-issue.

"It would be nice for a student to be able to walk into a room and say 'I'm gay' and have everyone continue about their business," Blatt said.

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