GSA discusses heterosexism
Published: Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Updated: Sunday, May 17, 2009 19:05
The USM Gay/Straight Alliance gathered on Dec. 7 with four guest speakers to discuss the prejudices against gay people in society and the sociological privileges of being heterosexual.
Room 201 of the LAB was packed with over 50 attendees for Wednesday's seminar. Guest speakers included Dr. Kate Green, Susan Hrostoski, Dr. Joyous Bethel and Dr. Eric Tribunella. Each speaker discussed a different topic from both gay and straight perspectives.
Dr. Green introduced heterosexism as the topic of discussion and defined heterosexism as "the belief in the inherent superiority of heterosexuality over all other sexualities." Hrostoski, Dr. Bethel and Dr. Tribunella discussed the history and placement of homosexuality in society.
Susan Hrostoski, a local social worker and an Episcopalian priest, was the evening's first speaker, and the audience listened attentively to her dissertation about the resilience of aging homosexuals quoting the phrase, "what doesn't kill us makes us stronger." The audience nodded in agreement.
Hrostoski also spoke about growing up as a homosexual in the South and the spiritual damnation assigned to homosexuals. As a lesbian, she spoke from experience about the legal oppression of gay rights. She told the personal story of the birth of her son which happened just before a law was passed preventing homosexuals the ability to adopt.
She discussed the omission of homosexual options on legal documents asking for a "mother" or "father" without the option of "second mother" or "second father." Hrostoski encouraged the homosexual community to get involved and influence their area's treatments toward gays and lesbians.
Hrostoski mixed a little bit of humor in with her speech when talking about selectionism, exceptionism and tokenism. She said selectionism or exceptionism is when someone is prejudiced against homosexuals in general but not against certain individuals whom they know personally. Tokenism, she said, is when heterosexuals show off their gay friends, and the audience laughed in agreement.
The main objective of her portion of the seminar was to provide proof homosexuals, as they age, develop more "crisis competence" or ability to deal with hardship. She also claimed statistics have proven older gays and lesbians have higher income and education levels than most. She closed with suggestions on how to become more comfortable with personal sexuality.
Dr. Joyous Bethel spoke from the perspective of a heterosexual woman in society and the privileges she had growing up as a straight woman.
"I enjoyed privileges I didn't even know I had," she said as she reflected on the absence of discrimination she experienced growing up.
Bethel added her sexuality was never an issue in terms of employment, grades, income, or friends. Bethel said she first witnessed the injustice of "isms" in college when homosexuals were mocked and judged by her fellow heterosexuals. She reflected upon her friendship with Dr. Green and Susan Hrostoski saying they have supported her through everything, and that is why she supports them. She expressed the urgency for the community to be more aware of the "isms" within a society and make it a personal issue even if it does not affect you.
The final speaker was Dr. Eric Tribunella, a young English professor at the university.
He summarized the history of prejudice and criticized the government's restriction of homosexual rights. He explained while racism and heterosexism are very different, they are alike in both benefit the majority and degrade the minority. After his segment, the floor was opened up for a question and answer session which, at times, became a little tense.
There were questions about the acceptance of bisexuality among the homosexual community, and the blaming of gay people for the spreading of AIDS. The tension began when a young man raised his hand and asked for a headcount of all those present who were gay and a headcount of those who were straight. Dr. Green stopped him mid-sentence asking "the whole point of this seminar is to avoid labeling so why would you need a headcount?" Claiming he was straight, his defense was he was just curious of who was gay and who was straight in the room. Dr. Chambers, an audience member and historian at USM, defended the man's request saying neglecting to "come out" is ultimately conforming to heterosexism views.
The question and answer session also became emotional as Dr. Green recalled how a hate crime against her for being a lesbian encouraged her even more to come out. She was raped by a man who told her it was because she was lesbian.
"If I'm not in the closet about my rape," she explained, "Why would I be in the closet about my sexuality?"
Her partner, Hrostoski, denied rumors children of gay couples will turn out gay and used her heterosexual son as an example. She said she would never want him to go through what she has been through and is happy he is straight.
The seminar concluded with loud applause after an hour and a half. Rebekah Nolan, a senior biological science major, said she came to support a friend. She found the seminar very informative. She also said she came to see Dr. Green because she once had her as a professor.
Senior exercise science major Neil Samarripa helped organize the event and booked the speakers.
He was proud and surprised by the turnout and positive response. He said he never experienced any physical discrimination against him for being gay, but he did endure some verbal abuse in his adolescent years.
He says now he has overcome it and is confident, and he hoped the seminar encouraged others to be proud of their sexuality as well.