Temple has managed to create and maintain an environment with policy, programs and student organizations that allow students to feel comfortable being open about their identity and sexuality.
On Sept. 11, a group of 15 people assaulted a gay couple. The incident was widely publicized, generating outrage over Pennsylvania state laws that left acts of violence toward the LGBTQ community – a widespread group that therefore uses varying acronyms – outside of the hate crime banner. Despite many concluding the assault was a “hate crime,” the commonwealth of Pennsylvania does not recognize assaults based on sexual orientation as such.
On Sept. 25, Jim Kenney and Blondell Reynolds-Brown introduced language that would amend the city code to “ensure crimes motivated by a victim’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability are considered hate crimes in the city,” Philadelphia Magazine reported.
Reynolds-Brown is confident the proposal will be passed as soon as November.
“It didn’t scare us,” Mitch Wise, junior communications studies major and president of the Queer Student Union said about the assault.
According to the LGBTQIA section of the Wellness Resource Center’s website, “Temple University seeks to create a supportive environment for all students, faculty, and staff.”
This mission appears to have been ongoing at Temple, and it’s impacted me on a personal level. My uncle, Damian Bellino, who graduated from Temple in 2007, told me he felt his sexuality was accepted at Temple.
“I always felt safe coming to campus,” he said. “I always felt encouraged to speak my point of view.”
Current student experiences indicate that feelings of acceptance continue to transcend mere sentiment – actions daily throughout the student and faculty bodies make campus a safe place for every member of the community.
Wise said that while each person may have different feelings about the situation, he feels the Center City assault as a whole has only brought the Temple LGBTQ community closer together.
Another student wished to remain anonymous because he does not feel comfortable coming out about his sexuality. However, he said that it is not the environment created on campus that makes him reluctant to be open, but rather “the expectations that we have for queer people.
“Being a queer man, I’ll never be equal to the straight man, no matter how hard I try,” the freshman history major said. “If it is known that I am bisexual, [with] every masculine endeavor in which I partake, I will have to try twice as hard to get half the results.”
The student is also a member of a club sports team and is wary of opening himself up as a target for ridicule and speculation in and out of the locker room, citing Michael Sam, the NFL’s first gay player.
Sam was drafted in the seventh round of the NFL draft to the St. Louis Rams and later released. He is now on the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad, but he constantly endures reporter presence and fan speculation that his spot on the team was given because of his sexuality and not earned by his playing ability.
“I’m a big sports fan,” the anonymous student said. “In the social circles that I run in, it would just be very difficult to be open about my sexuality.”
This student’s experience makes it clear that some groups accept the LGBTQ community more readily than others. Wise said he strives for QSU to be safe until those other groups catch up.
“We definitely have members that are in the closet … It’s totally anonymous. It’s their safe place to come and not worry,” he said.
Zeke Riggin, a freshman linguistics major, feels that Temple’s administration as a whole has provided important services to help them feel more comfortable in their gender.
Riggin is a trans student whose preferred set of pronouns is “they/them.”
“I like knowing that there are unisex bathrooms,” Riggin said. “That’s a small thing and there aren’t a whole lot of them, but they do have some on campus.”
Along with unisex bathrooms, Riggin said all of their professors have been good about understanding their identity, despite what is listed on the roster.
Wise said he believes very much in the community created at the university. “This whole body is a team,” he said.
Temple has a substantial, thriving LGBTQ community and has an obligation to make it feel safe. I have seen people who I love face judgement and ostracization for expressing themselves when they need and deserve a safe environment.
Until such time as every place is safe for the LGBTQ community, it’s vital that such safe environments exist. Thankfully, Main Campus has done just that – through staff and student behaviors, policies and student organizations, Temple fosters an environment that accepts and values every member of its community.
Vince Bellino can be reached at email@example.com and on twitter @VinceTNF