Sara Kelley is an intern at NOW-NYC and is currently completing her bachelorâ€™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: Itâ€™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 largeâ€”if not largerâ€”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, â€œthey didnâ€™t know.â€? 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 communityâ€™s attitudes towards LGBTQQ students like me, and to be aware of the various issues we face. Weâ€™ve got to move past ignorance into knowledge, and hopefully, then, we can arrive at tolerance.