'Gay? Fine by me ... ' panel lightens hearts, opens minds

On April 22, Wadsworth Auditorium hosted a panel of speakers discussing issues facing the Lesbian Bisexual Gay Transgender Queer Questioning Intersex community in a presentation and discussion entitled "Gay? Fine by me …"

Junior Richie Jaquith hosted the discussion and the panel included junior Dan Hart, associate professor of foreign languages Joaquin Gomez, senior Isobel Connors, high school teacher Shauna Marie O'Toole, School of Education graduate assistant Juliana White and communicative disorders and sciences lecturer Irene Belyakov.

Hart spoke first, presenting a brief history of the event, which was started at Duke University after the college was voted the most homophobic campus in America in 2003. Since, "Gay? Fine By Me …" has evolved from an event organized by 10 students to one in which over 200 schools across the nation participate.

Hart cited Geneseo's Pride Alliance as just one example of the progress in the fight for gay rights and the strength of collective activism. "This is going to be an uphill battle, but look at all that we can do if we stand together," he said.

Gomez, who spoke second, discussed his experience growing up under fascism in Spain and what he feels his role and responsibilities are as a gay professor at Geneseo. "One of my biggest obstacles to coming out to myself was struggling with my own homophobic feelings that I developed from my society," he said. "I believe my private life should be private, but I do think that we have a social responsibility to help people feel comfortable enough to come out."

Connors discussed issues of identity and the dichotomy created by language, explaining that terms such as "bisexual" and "queer" are often inadequate in describing sexuality. "Sexual identity, to me, is private and political," Connors said.

"The whole event was really interesting and there's so much going on," sophomore Claire Littlefield said. "I thought Isobel Connors was great. She is just so intelligent when she talks about gender theory."

O'Toole delivered a humorous but deliberate account of her experiences as a transgender individual who successfully completed surgical transition. She described the "discord between body and soul" that leads an individual to desire transition and relayed that the risk of going through with such a procedure is profound and has meaningful economic and emotional impact.

"Being comfortable in your own skin is worth the risk," O'Toole said. "I didn't choose to be transgender; I didn't choose to live as a woman. I chose to reconcile the discord … I chose life instead of death."

White began by stating that the struggle for rights begins with education. She emphasized that the key to being an ally is to not remain satisfied. "Multicultural curriculum will help build the foundation of acceptance and understanding of diversity," she said.

Last to speak was Belyakov, who shared her personal story of growing into her current sense of self. She had been married to a man in Soviet Russia, but after coming to the United States divorced him to be with a woman. Her experience with her current partner of over 20 years served as a catalyst for a discussion of gay marriage.

"I never realized that checking the 'married' box on a form could get me over 1,100 rights at the federal level," she said. But Belyakov's ultimate message was simple: "When consenting adults fall in love, it's nobody's business. When people are happy, it's good for everybody," she said.

Free T-shirts bearing the slogan "Gay? Fine by me …" were distributed to students who came to the panel.