OU's LGBT community leans toward "privilege and exclusiveness," writes Ryant Taylor.
In Fall Semester 2014, I participated in a Speakout! panel for the first time in over a year and a half. For those of you who don’t know, Speakout! is a panel of LGBTQA-identifying persons who agree to go to classes, share their experiences and answer questions. Sounds like a good idea, right?
Instead of the intellectually stimulating experience I was hoping for, I witnessed an egocentric circle jerk. The four other panelists spent most of their time explaining their dating history, which bored even me. Their coming out stories, while involving discrimination and mistreatment, still generally displayed a lack of diversity or acknowledgment of privilege. One panelist found it important to explain what a “chap stick lesbian” was. Another person called their self “the token asexual” among their friends. I would have lobotomized myself if given the opportunity.
During my time at Ohio University, I have gone back and forth about my emotions toward our LGBTQA community. My first two years, I went to numerous LGBTQA organizations in Athens and participated in other Speakout! panels, always leaving with a bitter taste on my tongue or feeling overlooked. It took me a while to process these emotions, and even now I struggle as Student Senate’s LGBTQA Affairs Commissioner. But now I can accurately explain my frustrations.
OU’s LGBTQA community is largely white and privileged, and some members unconsciously exploit their hardships to feel interesting. I once read an article that stated when people of the majority identify as LGBTQA and face prejudice for it, they feel betrayed because of their damaged privilege. College has proven this true to me.
As a gay black male, born to a Jamaican family, I am no stranger to unwarranted prejudice. When I was eight years old, my stepfather said he would kill any man who ever hit on him. Last year, I had a cousin tell numerous family members that I was a “fag.”
Statistically, because of my skin color, I am at risk. Although all of these factors play into my existence and my outlook on life, they are not who I am. This is why I have turned away from the community in the past, put off by the privilege and exclusiveness. I refuse to indulge in an LGBTQA community that, in the past, has lacked vocal diversity of experiences and conversation. Instead, I define myself as person who talks about racial injustices and tuition hikes. I fall asleep and snore while watching OU Theatre productions. I dance shirtless at parties and rant angrily about the idiocy of higher education in classes. I once asked a worker at the Athens Book Center about the last time she fell in love and she told me.
For me, life is more than just my previous traumas or the sense of identity my sexuality can give me. Life is about what I do to make myself and others feel more human. While the Ohio University LGBT Center provides a safe space for some, the community it serves seldom challenges one another, is far too concentrated on themselves and is complacent in its privilege. On a daily basis, even I am learning the ways in which I am privileged.
This is why I desire an LGBTQA community with a foundation of intersectionality and inclusion of minority experiences, and a community that questions why individuals even have to come out. I desire a community where students can partake in Speakout! and can also be educated by the pluralism in the experiences of others in the LGBTQA community. I desire a community that celebrates our humanness, not just our sexualities or gender, a community that embraces all and not just most.
Ryant Taylor is a senior studying English, a coordinator for the Ohio University Student Union, LGBTQA commissioner for Student Senate, and an activist on campus. Email him at email@example.com.