Students face homophobia head-on at conference

By Linda Luk

Students shared their experiences of living with a gay roommate and being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered at NIU during a panel discussion Thursday night.

As part of LGBT Awareness Month, the Residence Hall Association’s sub-committee and Believing in Culture hosted a forum titled, “Don’t Freak Out ‘Cause I’m Gay! Living with a Gay Roommate.”

About 15 people attended the forum, which consisted of a student panel and faculty addressing the issues of being LGBT, including living with a gay roommate or being the gay roommate.

“I am gay and have had straight roommates before,” said Alex Underwood, a senior management major. “I just never really had a problem. I don’t think anyone really feels uncomfortable.”

Sarah Cooper, a senior Spanish business translation major, shared her experience about living with a gay roommate who she knew before they lived together.

“I lived with a gay roommate this summer,” Cooper said. “I didn’t really think about it.”

Beyond the issue of being the gay roommate or living with a gay roommate, the panel answered questions about experiences with being LGBT and the coming out experience.

“I went through counseling and it was probably the most intelligent thing I have done,” Underwood said. “I told my parents last winter break. They freaked out a little bit. We had a discussion and argued the points. It was a positive experience, but it was kind of scary.”

While some experiences have been positive, some experiences have been negative.

Margie Cook, program coordinator of LGBT programs at the Office of University Programming and Activities, acknowledged that not everyone in the LGBT community has positive experiences.

“A lot of people who have problems with roommates come to me,” Cook said. “Some students have negative experiences.”

Such experiences included isolation on residence hall floors and having derogatory statements written on a dry erase board, which makes some students feel really uncomfortable, she said.

One of the main fears for students with gay roommates or for those who know people that are LGBT is that the LGBT person is attracted to them.

“I just want to say, ‘Get over yourself,’” Underwood said. “Just because I like guys doesn’t mean I like every guy.”

Cook explained that is what most people are afraid of, and people have such a stereotype because people are not educated enough.

Audience members shared their experiences.

Jennifer Hunt, a senior criminology major, shared her views on her experience of coming out and how others have treated her.

“Me being a lesbian doesn’t make me,” Hunt said. “You don’t have to accept me, but respect me. Someone coming out to you, the absolute worst thing you can do is not love them. For you to turn your back on them is horrible.”

Hunt also advised people who still are struggling with coming out to find someone to confide in.

“Don’t hold it in,” Hunt said. “It is the most horrible experience.”

Andrea Baker, a junior elementary education major, attended the forum to learn more about the LGBT community.

“I came because I am a peer instructor for University 101; I deal with students who are homophobic,” Baker said. “I came to get advice and information to share. I wish more people came out. Anybody who came left with something.”