Voices of NOW NYC: More than Marriage

sarak.jpgSara Kelley is an intern at NOW-NYC and is currently completing her bachelor’s degree in sociology and peace and justice studies.
Equal marriage is so hot right now. In the way of LGBTQQ issues, marriage is probably one of the only ones your average Joe or Josephine could pinpoint. Media won’t stop covering it, politicians can’t stop debating it. Now don’t get me wrong, equal marriage is an extremely important issue but it’s not the only LGBTQQ issue out there.
Flashback: It’s the summer after sophomore year, and I have finally gone through the arduous process of coming out. I naively breathe a sigh of relief as I pictured my new, easy life as a member of the lesbian community. Back at school I joined our gay/straight alliance. It was mainly a social club, and I was having fun until one of our members was threatened by a football player in her dorm. Claiming to be sent by God to kill gay people, he threatened to bring a knife to school to harm her and her friends. Our school was under-responsive; they moved the football player to a different dorm (next door!), but waited to do so until the following semester, so as not to “disturb him during finals.”
I was incensed. Besides awakening in me an anger I did not know I possessed, the incident put me on the alert for LGBTQQ issues, especially at my school. I found that for most students, marriage wasn’t the top issue. Rather, the attitudes and behaviors of our school community was a pressing issue. I find that very few students at my school are familiar with the words “heterosexist” or “unearned privilege.” And somehow the word gay is now a synonym for stupid (“that’s so gay”). These are small, everyday things that can have a BIG, everyday impact on the community.


As I became involved with NOW-NYC, it became clear to me that while changes in legislation and our country’s laws are indispensable, education about the issues can have just as large—if not larger—effect on the issue. Raising public awareness is crucial to the struggle for positive social change. For example, NOW-NYC leverages its resources to hold rallies, public forums and meetings with policy makers to call attention to important issues effecting girls and women of all backgrounds, like the one I described above.
I am enthralled to be working with NOW-NYC on expanding our LGBTQQ rights committee and am grateful to be working with an organization that recognizes the importance of grassroots efforts, like public education. Too often, ignorance leads to intolerance, and offensive attitudes can be shrugged off by those who claim, “they didn’t know.� My school knows that gay marriage is still illegal. I want my school and other institutions like it to know what heterosexist means, to recognize the effects of the community’s attitudes towards LGBTQQ students like me, and to be aware of the various issues we face. We’ve got to move past ignorance into knowledge, and hopefully, then, we can arrive at tolerance.

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13 Comments

  1. hoolianian
    Posted December 13, 2007 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    aw, poor football player can’t be bothered to move during finals, but lesbian has to take her finals amidst death threats…yeah, that makes sense

  2. radhika
    Posted December 13, 2007 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    This is awesome. We need to generate more comments on this issue! I know that most of the women on this site are white and come from educated, upper-middle class backgrounds, but this is SUCH an important issue for everyone.
    LGBTQQ rights FTW!

  3. feministorbust
    Posted December 13, 2007 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    Right. All of these -isms are interconnected. Homophobia and heterosexism cut across all categories experiences. More posts with this
    “interconnectedness” in mind would be so great.

  4. Posted December 13, 2007 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    This was even more than just heterosexism, it was also a threat against a woman (lesbians are women :) ) … so even at my conservative college the women’s equality groups & the l-gsa, and faculty and staff would have at minimal organized a protest and an educational forum.
    I’m glad that this got you involved with NOW-NYC.
    Heterosexuality is one of those unnamed privileges
    that impact all of us. Heterosexism was first named by the Radicalesbians in Women Identified Women written in 1970, it is still vibrant today…(you can find it on line at scriptorium.lib.duke.edu/wlm/womid
    ciao

  5. demolitionwoman
    Posted December 13, 2007 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    There’s an older book by Suzanne Pharr (can’t remember the title) that addresses the intersections of homophobia and sexism – highly recommended.
    Also, “gay” as a synonym for “stupid” was around when I was a kid in the 80s – it’s made a big comeback in the last few years and I’m not sure why. I think I’m gonna flip it around and start saying “ohmygawd, that’s SO straight!” or mebbe “het” would be better…

  6. AnnaSoror
    Posted December 13, 2007 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

    Hi, I have nothing substantive to add, but I just wanted to lend support. I was into LGTBQQ issues long before I ever thought about feminism, and I see how connected they are.

  7. Persephone
    Posted December 13, 2007 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

    I think it was Annamarie Jagose’s book “Queer Theory” that talked about the phenomenon of men calling any woman who is powerful or who refuses to conform to patriarchal standards of femininity a “dyke” as an insult (a phenomenon I experienced first hand in high school). I see that as synonymous with people using “gay” as a synonym for stupid.

  8. wackychick786
    Posted December 13, 2007 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

    I attend a small liberal arts college in the midwest. There I found a great niche in the activist community, but at times I forget that some students at a pretty liberal, liberal arts school hold on to some traditional values. I think education is key. One possible way for people to asses their privilege is hold an event where the roles are reversed.
    Also, I agree that marriage is not really the focus of a lot of college aged queer kids and thus participation in our schools LGBTQQ group has declined. Our new goal is to revamp the group, make it more fun and radical, with lots of glitter.
    Good luck on your campus.
    In Solidarity

  9. werechick
    Posted December 14, 2007 at 12:38 am | Permalink

    I think it was Annamarie Jagose’s book “Queer Theory” that talked about the phenomenon of men calling any woman who is powerful or who refuses to conform to patriarchal standards of femininity a “dyke” as an insult (a phenomenon I experienced first hand in high school). I see that as synonymous with people using “gay” as a synonym for stupid.
    It works for both genders, actually. When a woman demands to be treated like an adult human being, she’s “a man-hating dyke,” and when a man agrees her, then he’s a “pussy whipped faggot.” (Never mind the contradiction, logic dies when assholes try to apply it)
    Homophobia is used to police gender roles and in this way, hurts straight people too. A girl can’t speak her mind and a boy can’t sing in the choir, because the mistaken impression of homosexuality is enough to generate harassment and violence.
    It’s for this reason I’m always astonished that straight people don’t support gay rights more. The same homophobes that seek to deny their gay neighbors equal protection under the law also seek to keep them neatly in their boxes. Both decency and self interest compel action.

  10. sara
    Posted December 14, 2007 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    Pardon my ignorance: I’m familiar with “LGBT” but where did the two additional Qs at the end come from?

  11. Rory
    Posted December 14, 2007 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    Her father and I are both extremely proud of Sara and the piece she has written. These are important issues that needed to be dealt with many years ago! I don’t know how cool it is to have your mother comment on your writing, but I am so beyond proud of my daughter and the woman that she has become.

  12. werechick
    Posted December 14, 2007 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    @ Sara: The other two Qs are “questioning” and “queer.” As the name suggests, questioning covers people uncertain of their sexual orientation. Queer is more of an umbrella term for people who don’t fit neatly into the gay/straight/bisexual boxes, or choose not to be so specific.

  13. Mina
    Posted December 14, 2007 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

    “It’s for this reason I’m always astonished that straight people don’t support gay rights more. The same homophobes that seek to deny their gay neighbors equal protection under the law also seek to keep them neatly in their boxes.”
    So true. I have to admit part of my support for GBLTQQ et al. rights is pure self-interest.
    “Queer is more of an umbrella term for people who don’t fit neatly into the gay/straight/bisexual boxes, or choose not to be so specific.”
    Ok, I got it now. Earlier I heard that “queer” was an alternative to “GLBT” which
    a) includes gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans people
    b) sounds less like a sandwich with bacon, lettuce, and tomato

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