Gay Students Sound Off
by Jess Bailey '99
The day the first-years arrived last year, a message written in Wilder Hall read "Lesbians go to hell."
In a bathroom in Safford Hall last year, a drawing of two female symbols were crossed out and replaced with a female and a male symbol. Signs for Lesbian Bisexual Alliance meetings or events posted around campus and in residence halls seem to disappear.
"There is discrimination on campus," said Alicia Curlew '98, chair of LBA, "maybe not as bad as in the real world, but it's still there."
To discriminate means to act prejudicial, and the Mount Holyoke campus isn't exempt from both subtle and blatant forms of discrimination.
Maya Perkins '98 said her first year experience was one of the most difficult things she's ever dealt with. Sitting in the lounge one day in 1837, she heard a group of first-years in the kitchenette talking about the signs posted for LBA.
Then they started talking about her and lesbians and bisexuals in general. "I felt totally horrible ... I didn't know what to do ... I walked out before they saw me. It was totally scary," said Perkins.
She realized Mount Holyoke wasn't the "welcoming" place she assumed it was. LBA had only one woman of color at the time, and "the way racism works, I felt really uncomfortable there. At APAU, I felt I had to be only black, and at LBA, I had to be only gay ... all the parts of me couldn't come together."
Eventually Perkins and her friends talked about forming a group for lesbian, bisexual, and questioning women of color. They created SYSTA.
"I think I've really seen this campus change. Even if people are homophobic, they don't feel as free talking about it," Perkins said.
Mellanye Lackey '98, thinks there are "many forms of discrimination," but there are no statistics because the events aren't reported or they're dealt with privately.
Lackey has also felt the sting of ignorance, both passively and blatantly. "My first year, my roommate didn't support me at all," said Lackey. "There are also people who don't stop to talk to me when they're walking by."
An active member of the LBA, Lackey said, "As a group we would like to see more support by the staff and higher administration and see that discrimination is stopped."
Elizabeth Patterson '99 hasn't felt outward discrimination on this campus. She experienced ignorance towards homosexuality in general from the campers during her summer as a camp counselor, but here she feels "extremely open and safe. It's great to have allies on campus."
Allies such as LBA, Spectrum, and SYSTA give support to many students. Spectrum is a social and support group for women of all sexual orientations, seeking to combat homophobia through education and discussion.
Patterson said, "I still feel like there's a lot of misunderstanding or not wanting to understand. It shouldn't be 'us' versus 'them'."
Laura Betts '99 experienced this kind of misunderstanding her first week on campus. She met a friend in her Moving Beyond group during orientation, and eventually the conversation led to Betts' sexuality.
"I admitted that I was a lesbian, and she freaked out. She started drilling me, saying things like 'I can't believe you're a lesbian' or 'Have you ever kissed a girl?' Now she avoids me. She won't make eye contact," said Betts.
This kind of general avoidance is a common form of passive discrimination these women have experienced.
Betts said there is "definite homophobia on campus." A woman in a position of power told her blatantly that "this campus is like a business and needs to be marketed, and by marketing it, the stereotypical lesbians need to be hidden on campus so prospective [students] don't see them."
Tonja Santos '97 said "It's not necessarily discrimination, but we're definitely left out." She said lesbians and bisexual women are left out of some things, like party planning. "Often we feel uncomfortable at heterosexual parties."
'Discrimination' and 'leaving certain people out' are acts of prejudice. As Perkins said, "We still do have a ways to go."