For a city with the eighth-largest per-capita gay population in the nation, GLBT culture seems to be reduced to a week-long film festival, wild dance party and the warm-fuzzy welcoming feeling just about anyone in Bloomington can find.
Where, then, does our claim to such a sizeable gay population come from?
It is hardly a secret that IU and the Bloomington area are known for their accepting values, progressive thinking and colorful community.
While these are all positive traits of this area and may contribute to safely bringing a gay population to Bloomington, there is a disconnect between this group and the culture they could offer to Bloomington as a whole.
IU has the community, ability and creativity to create a rich and vibrant GLBT culture; it is about time that we empower and express this opportunity.
It all begins with education.
Eric Anthony Grollman, a Ph.D. student who currently teaches a course on sexual diversity and blogs for Kinsey Confidential, noted that when it came to the next step for GLBT rights, “Bloomington has a way to go.” He went on to say that this next major step will come when the GLBT community is “seen as people more than a sexuality.”
Common misconceptions about sexuality that may not plague other groups on campus come from a lack of education and misuse of terms such as “gay,” which have become common and yet remain hurtful when used incorrectly.
Dr. Catherine M. Sherwood-Laughlin, MPH Assistant Department Chair of the Department of Applied Health Science, said that on our journey toward respect and understanding, “We need to learn about people who are not like us, ask ourselves why we feel uncomfortable, why we feel hate. ... We just need to expand our horizons and learn.”
This would open the door for individuals scared of their own identity. It creates a space of hope and compassion for those who might not receive it in other places.
We need to offer more than words and the idea of IU being an open collection of people – we need to show it. We need our actions, through a unified connection with the GLBT community, to unite in more than just rights and politics.
When this campus can connect in the search for a living GLBT culture, then we will see people as people and be able to truly expand our horizons.
The GLBT Student Support Services Office has begun to see GLBT culture as more than one that excludes heterosexuals; they have “helped to create a climate of greater understanding,” coordinator Doug Bauder said. “One goal of this office is to see oppression from a larger perspective and say, ‘We are with you.’”
This type of connectedness creates the opportunity for anyone to bring their whole self to this campus and hold nothing back.
Through the connection of complete, open persons, we as a whole have the opportunity to stand strong with our GLBT friends and colleagues in the quest to understand their own cultural heritage.
This heritage is open and malleable for anyone ready to explore it. Aside from those listed on gaybarmaps.com, the places offering opportunities for the GLBT population to share experiences and feel comfortable looking for dates are relatively few.
“We are invisible in our own culture,” said Grollman. And how right he is.
A culture of open acceptance does not allow anyone to be invisible; a population as full of vitality and life as the GLBT community should not allow this invisibility.
“We show our pride so we can give hope to all those who still have to be silent in their closets,” said Shaily Hakimian, a freshman volunteer at the GLBT Student Support Services Office.
In its quest for culture and understanding, the GLBT population has to begin by breaking down its own closet doors and offering themselves wholly and with pride to the IU community.
While this may be one of the hardest moments of many lives, it will be one of the most fulfilling and eye-opening. We are surrounded by those willing and ready to help through this time of discovery and empowerment.
Once a real and visible gay culture is formed, with each and every member of our community as part of it, whether you be a straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, queer, questioning or any combination of these, this culture will inspire and empower you and so many others to understand and accept your true self.
This culture will be one of ever-flowing creativity and expression of humanity no matter its social restrictions or religious barriers.
It will add depth and quality of life for every member who supports it.
Anyone can relate and contribute to this GLBT culture; it is one of art, film, theater, music, dance, fashion, conversation, food and so much more.
It’s time for IU to unite in sharing more than a deep connection with diversity.
It’s time to show it with a community struggling to find its place.
It’s time to celebrate Amy Ray, Nathan Lane, Renee Richards and Alan Cumming, not just because they help to create GLBT culture, but because they are talented individuals who are proud to express who they truly are.
It’s time for this new community to build up from its roots in a way that is unique to IU and all of its members.
It’s time to see this community enjoying each other and walking with pride.
It’s time for a newly educated and compassionate campus to rally with our GLBT community and see that there are many parts to it.
It’s time for IU to come out, create and celebrate its truly vibrant GLBT culture.