BY LARA BONNER AND RATHI RAMASAMY
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY LARA BONNER
Would her friends shun her? Would her parents kick her out of her own home? Or, worst of all, would she face the risk of violent attacks and harassment? All of these fears ran through Clary Bryan’s mind as she approached her parents to tell them her deepest secret: she is gay.
Fortunately for Bryan, now a senior, her friends and family were completely accepting. Although she has experienced some examples of homophobia at UAHS, Bryan said these incidents are rare and the way in which they have been handled emphasizes students’ generally tolerant attitude towards homosexuality.
However, despite this tolerance, Bryan said the isolation of the gay community and lack of discussion regarding homosexuality show that while blatant homophobia is unacceptable in UA, covert discrimination is common, and gay students like Bryan feel the sting.
FEELING THE STING
According to Bryan, UA is an accepting community in regards to homosexuality.
“If I had gone to a different school in a conservative place I would be afraid, but I’m not afraid here,” Bryan said. “Most people at UA are pretty cool and open.”
Although Bryan said she has experienced some instances of homophobia, including an incident at a crew regatta last year, she said the issues were handled in a manner that reflect UA’s accepting attitude.
“I was sitting in the UA tent …[and] I was arguing with this kid …and I turned back around and blew him off, and while I couldn’t hear him, he called me a faggot behind my back,” Bryan said. “But this is also an example of how progressive UA is, because my friends [sneaked] off and told the coaches. And subsequently [the student] got in a lot of trouble and was later kicked off the team.”
Other examples of homophobia in school usually occur in the form of joking, with the word “gay” used as a punchline, Bryan said.
“If something is stupid, people will call it ‘gay,’” she said. “I don’t like it.”
In addition, she said the student body seems uncomfortable with “PDA” from gay couples.
“When gay couples are together in the hallway, they get more disgusted looks than straight couples do,” Bryan said.
Senior Kate*, who was in an open relationship with her girlfriend, said she received mixed reactions from classmates.
“Many poeple would stare at us in the hallway and talk about us,” she said. “But I remember one of the most memorable things was right after [we] came out as a gay couple and we were holding hands walking through the hall past a bench of girls. One of the girls looked at us, smiled and nodded.”
“It really made us feel good, because it was like she was saying she didn’t care and was happy for us,” Kate said. “It just felt supportive, which really meant a lot.”
ORIGINS OF HOMOPHOBIA
But not all students are as accepting as the girl Kate encountered in the hallway. While senior Ryan Setterlin does not consider himself to be homophobic, he said many people are homophobic because they view being gay as abnormal.
“People are homophobic because they are afraid of change,” Setterlin said.
Bryan agreed, saying many people think homosexuality is “strange.”
Additionally, homophobia spawns from peoples’ desires to not be associated with society’s stereotype of gay people, Setterlin said.
“Society makes gay people seem really bad—so people are afraid of being called gay or acting gay, so [instead] guys show off their masculinity,” Setterlin said.
While blatant homophobia—which is characterized as harrassment or active avoidance of gays—is not socially acceptable at UAHS, many people harbor stereotypes against the gay community, Setterlin said.
“People are tolerant to [gay people’s] faces but behind their backs there are stereotypes that affect how they view them,” Setterlin said. “There are people who are nice to [gays] at school but would never want to hang out with them on the weekend because they are different. Behind their backs, people make fun of how [gay people] talk, their fashion and mannerisms.”
In addition, Bryan said limited discussion on the topic leads to ignorance.
“It’s a topic no one really talks about, but there are so many people [who] you wouldn’t think [were gay, but they are],” Bryan said.
According to psychologist Kathryn Leugers, homophobia is influenced by several factors.
“Homophobia can be the result of a variety of influences, from perceiving that sexuality is a personal choice to religious and cultural beliefs about appropriate sexuality or sexual behavior,” she said.
Bryan and Setterlin both agreed that upbringing is another factor which affects how people view homosexuality and the issue of gay marriage, especially in terms of religion.
Setterlin is one of many in the school—31 percent, according to a voluntary Feb. 12 Arlingtonian survey of 88 students—in the school who said he disagrees with gay marriage.
“Marriage is a religious institution,” Setterlin said. “I recognize the benefits of a marriage for gays but calling it a marriage goes against the religious definition. It takes away the [sacred] part of it.”
One organization, Exodus International, was created in order to preserve the sanctity of marriage, according to the Columbus Branch website. Exodus is designed to help gay people who no longer want to be gay.
“God designed human sexuality to be enjoyed solely within the bounds of one-man, one-woman marriage. Any sexual relationship outside of that design—heterosexual or homosexual —falls short of God’s standard,” the website said.
According to pastor Dave Vallangeon, who works at a Columbus branch of Exodus called Bridge of Hope, Exodus tries to help homosexuals through counseling and prayer.
“We want to help people who are living a homosexual lifestyle to overcome any same-sex attractions they may be feeling,” Vallangeon said.
Leugers said homophobia can negatively affect students in a high school setting.
“Coping with verbal and physical threats and rumors caused by homophobia can lead a student to feel anxious, depressed, irritable, scared, and isolated,” she said. “These feelings and moods can interfere with family and social relationships and school performance. Bullying is not only stressful for the student that is on the receiving end, it also causes stress for many of the students participating in the bullying and breaks down the sense of community in a school environment.”
Bullying can often stem from insecurity, Leugers said.
“For many teenagers, a large part of high school is figuring out how to be ‘yourself’ while also fitting in. This is hard for everyone,” she said. “Bullying students who are different or stand out in some way can sometimes happen when one leader starts making comments or threats and others go along to ‘fit in,’ or others are quiet so they won’t become a target, too.”
People have many anxieties about coming out, Bryan said, and homophobia in schools does not help the matter.
“I would say that the two main fears [associated with coming out] are acceptance from your family and friends, and being attacked, on any level, for what you are,” Bryan said. “Maybe about a year or so after I came out, I realized that not every place is like UA. Not everyone is so accepting and frankly, things sometimes happen to gays and lesbians, like murders and threats.
Not very often, but things do happen, and it’s on the back of my mind all the time.”
Setterlin agreed that although he is against gay rights, homophobia is a problem.
“[To stop homophobia we would have to] change the image of gay people [in the media], but the media has to portray people in a better light,” Setterlin said.
Kate said she feels it is important for people to try and be accepting.
“We deserve the right to love people of the same gender and have benefits for them just like straight couples do,” she said. “Love is love no matter who it is between.”