People who know me well know that conversations with me frequently turn to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) rights issues. Last week, I was having one of my ubiquitous passionate outbursts about the way ignorance and hate leads to violence for LGBT people, when the person I was talking to shrugged it off.
“I really don’t think it’s a big deal anymore,” they said. “I don’t care if people are gay, and I’ve never seen any discrimination.”
While we have come a long way in recent years, discrimination, harassment and even violence against LGBT individuals is still a problem in this country. Studies suggest that the challenges LGBT people face because of their sexual orientation can prevent them from reaching their full social and academic potential in college.
A study from 2010 surveyed about 100 institutions and 5,000 college students. The study finds that about 25% of lesbian, gay and bisexual students and faculty experienced harassment while at college. 43 percent of gay, lesbian and bisexual people hid their sexual orientation to avoid intimidation. 39 percent of transgender and gender nonconforming people experienced harassment, and 63 percent said hid their sexual orientation.
These statistics become more personal when considering the story of Tyler Clementi, a 19-year-old college student from Rutgers University. His roommate, Dharun Ravi, filmed Clementi in a romantic encounter with another man, then posted it on the Internet. Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge on Sept. 22, 2010, just days after the video was posted online. Ravi is now facing a 15-count indictment, including a hate crime, and could face 5 to 10 years in prison.
Perhaps bullying of this intensity and scope isn’t widespread at CMU. But that shouldn’t stop students, faculty and administration from working to make CMU a LGBT safe zone, which could prevent future tragic stories of harassment, suicide or bullying occurrences at CMU. More importantly, LGBT students could feel accepted, which would allow them more successful and happier lives. A safe zone doesn’t only mean a lack of violence, but also active acceptance.
Most importantly, make yourself available to those who need it. You never know who might be listening. Advertise that you’re an ally in subtle ways (like those above), and you will be a safe place for LGBT people. Together we can make the entire campus a safer place.
So speak up, speak out, don’t stand for intolerance and actively fight for the acceptance of all people.
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