Hidden Homophobia and Discrimination

In a society that teaches us blue is for boys and pink is for girls as soon as we are born, growing up as a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) can be difficult. You are expected to act or speak in ways that may not fit who you are. Everyday aspects of life become problems, too; transgenders often can’t use public bathrooms without receiving dirty looks, rude remarks or even fearing for their safety.

Far away, in the Middle East, homosexuality is a crime punishable by death — on a governmental and social level — in most countries. And now, with the passing of Prop 8 last November, same-sex couples are forbidden to marry in California. Obviously, the LGBT community does not have it easy. And while our society has developed to a much more tolerant level than it was 50 years ago, this brand of hate is by no means eradicated, not even on college campuses.

“I think, as a whole, UCI students are generally supportive of the LGBT community,” says a 2009 UCI alumni who chose to be identified only by his first name, Jonathan. “Unfortunately, some negative stereotypes against bisexuals are very present, like the belief that bisexuals cannot settle down and just love sex without attachment. Some potential dating partners have shut me off entirely because of that stereotype.

“I think [LGBTs are able to freely express themselves at UCI],” Jonathan continues. “However, despite the mostly welcome environment, there [have] definitely been some instances where LGBT people were questioned or ridiculed for their expressions of their identity.”

Hate crimes against gays, sadly, are not as uncommon as we’d like to believe. David Bishop, the director of UCI’s LGBT center, has experienced more than his fair share of homophobic hatred.

“I’ve been called ‘faggot’ while walking alone and with friends in LA, San Diego, Laguna, Huntington Beach, Irvine and here on campus,” Bishop recalls. “I have a gay pride sticker on my car and I’ve been chased on the freeway twice. Once with straight female students in my car; we were yelled at, given the finger and other obscenities. [The other time was] on Mother’s Day while my mother was in the car. They cut us off on the freeway, didn’t allow us to pass, and slowed down to 30 mph while a truckful of men yelled expletives at us through the back of their cab, giving me the finger and making obscene gestures.”

Bishop’s experiences are not exclusive. On March 10, two UC Riverside students who identify as gay were taken to the hospital after being jeered at, called homophobic names, and then beaten. On the night of April 15, a transgender student at Cal State Long Beach was attacked on his way to the bathroom; his attackers beat him, ripped off his clothes, and carved the word “IT” into his chest. And only a couple months ago, the LGBT Resource Center at UC Davis was vandalized with spray-painted homophobic language.

“We hope that incident likes these will not and cannot occur at UCI, but there is no accounting for fringe individuals that are hateful,” Bishop says. “Our community is on guard and feeling wary, and I can report an increase in the request for self-defense classes.”

How do college LGBT students react when they hear about or experience hate crimes on college campuses? In the 2003 National LGBT Rankin survey that polled colleges across America, 51 percent of LGBT students said they did not feel they could safely come out. 22 percent reported fearing for their physical safety because of their sexual orientation or gender expression and 37 percent reported concealing their sexual orientation or gender expression to avoid harassment or discrimination.

“This means we have a huge portion of this already marginalized community that do not feel safe enough to come out while in college to ANY of their friends, mentors, professors or other peers on campus,” Bishop says.

There may be good reason behind such fear. In the 2004 National LGBT Rankin study that polled colleges across America, the study found that over 91 percent of LGBT students had heard or experienced homophobic remarks in the last year.

“There is certainly more work to be done, like getting more accessible gender-neutral bathrooms on campus (especially important for transgender students) and increasing resources for our excellent LGBT Resource Center and LGBT mentor/mentee program,” Jonathan says. “However, I’m confident that UCI students, faculty and staff will continue to increase their commitment to providing a safe, welcoming space for LGBT students.”