In the last edition of Qchat this semester, columnist Josh Fernandez reflects on the LGBTQ community in the U.S. and on Main Campus.
At an April 19 fundraising event for Rep. Barbara Boxer in Los Angeles, President Barack Obama’s speech was continually disrupted by pro-gay protestors, demanding the president do what he promised to do: repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
“When you’ve got an ally like Barbara Boxer and you’ve got an ally like me who are standing for the same thing, then you don’t know exactly why you’ve got to holler, because we already hear you,” Obama responded. “I mean, it would have made more sense to holler that at the people who oppose it.”
Obama’s misguided response, as well as the quick change in support from the LGBTQ community, made me realize how fast the winds can change. More than a year after his inauguration, Obama no longer has the LGBTQ-community support he once had.
This realization made me reflect on my year as a queer activist on Main Campus, looking back at the good, the bad and ahead to the abruptly different world in the aftermath of my changed world.
As stated before, I entered the Temple LGBTQ fray in Fall 2008 – a very shy, very scared queer student looking for others like me. After loosening up and coming out of my shell, I formed friendships with a handful of people, with whom I thought I had much in common.
The following semester, I was nominated and voted into the events-coordinator position and remained an active part of the Queer Student Union’s executive board for a significant amount of time.
As an executive board member, I would like to think I made every attempt to be the voice of reason for the group. My strengths weren’t in events planning, which is not an easy task, nor is any student organization executive board position, for that matter.
Fall 2009, when my ties to QSU began to unravel, saw a mild Queer Café, two mini-social events and other events of epic proportions. Student Activities’, Residential Life’s and QSU’s weeklong National Coming Out Week celebration was the first of its kind for Main Campus. It succeeded because it was a collaborative effort from all three different organizations, but especially the teamwork of the executive board.
Later that week, the entire QSU executive board and a handful of members journeyed to Washington D.C., for the very moving Equality March, a march that resembled the City Hall Prop 8 protest almost a year before.
At this march, we tried to inspire LGBTQ activism and demand equality as we united together on the lawns of the Capitol building, a moving image that will forever stick in my head. After this event, for better or for worse, my dedication to QSU began to fade rapidly.
QSU, bent on rebuilding its organization by increasing membership, became less about creating and maintaining inter-group bonds and more about impressing the non-QSU-affiliated LGBTQ community members at Temple. Despite our efforts to implement creative ice-breakers to balance the bonding with a growing membership, the QSU body began forming cliques.
In the aftermath of what led to my QSU departure in November, I was left with few friends in the organization. I got over that blow and acknowledged the benefits of having friends from so many different groups. But the trouble remains: I don’t have one place I fit.
I spoke to an administrator who I am close to, and she said she learned from a few LGBTQ students about all the different gay groups – translated as “cliques” – on campus and within QSU.
“They told me about this group and that group, and then I asked them, ‘Which group is Josh in?’” the administrator said. “They said, ‘He’s not really in a group. He’s just Josh.’”
I wasn’t present when the conversation took place, so this statement could have had one of many meanings. It could take the face of a put-down that reads, “Loser,” or it could mean, “He’s an individual.” I prefer the latter meaning, especially because my year as an active QSU participant led me to realize I don’t find solace in, nor do I completely relate with, the gay-male community. Unfortunately, many people I’ve met at Temple embody a stereotype that I cannot and will not relate to.
My year in queer, a year marked by numerous gains and just as many losses, has been an experience that inspired a stronger me. I am forever grateful to those who’ve supported me and, despite my disconnect with the organization, will always support what QSU at one time represented.
Like the hecklers who interrupted Obama, I am comfortable standing up for myself and what I believe in. I no longer passively settle with tolerance, when acceptance is only a few extra feet away.
I wish no one had to experience the rollercoaster I experienced in the last year. My one friend always says you have to live your life like a sine curve, embracing the ups and the downs, and in doing so, you become a better and stronger you.
Josh Fernandez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.