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Out for change (continued)

BY AND LARGE, the students I talk to agree ó to a point. Nick Salter emphasizes that his is "a very, very straight school," but he also says that "itís too bad that BC continues to be labeled as homophobic from the outside. Because the community, at least the students and faculty, donít at all represent that. Sixty-five or 70 percent of people at [BC Equality] meetings are straight."

I ask if anyone has ever experienced any overt homophobia or harassment from fellow students, and they can come up with only a few instances. Young says a banner advertising a GLBT event on campus was ripped last year, and remembers a friendís boyfriend coming to visit and being called "fag." Michael Yaksich ó who, as director of GLBT issues for the student government, is a visible figure on campus ó says heís never had anything directed toward him either. "I havenít run into anything personally in my three years here," he says. "Not at all."

For his part, Salter says, "Iíve never heard anyone yelling Ďfaggotí at me or anything like that, but I would never feel comfortable ... expressing affection for someone I was dating. Iíve never actually seen two guys holding hands on campus. I do fear that someone would spit on me or yell at me if I were to do that. I donít know if thatís grounded in anything except my inexperience, but I just feel like itís hard to be dating someone on this campus and be out about that to the general public."

Later, sitting outside in the warm spring sunshine, Brian Kaufman, í06, says that while heís never experienced overt discrimination, "itís an aura you can feel at times." He explains, for instance, that heíd feel less comfortable talking about his homosexuality if other students were within earshot. And while Kaufman "definitely wouldnít say that BC is a homophobic school at all," he feels thereís a lot of work to be done when it comes to gay students feeling free to be themselves on their own campus. "We say often that BC is Ďtolerantí of homosexuality. Well, I Ďtolerateí the fact that I have to read 400 pages for tomorrow or that itís cold in the winter. I donít Ďtolerateí the fact that I have friends who are African-American or Muslim, who are different ethnicities; I embrace that."

Tasha Ferguson, í06, met her first and current girlfriend on campus as a freshman. "It was never a big concern for me once I did start dating her," she says. "I never felt any sort of social pressure against it. I donít think we act any differently on campus than we would outside of campus. When my girlfriend and I walk to class together, we definitely hold hands. A peck on the cheek before we leave. But I have to agree, Iíve never seen any guys holding hands on campus or giving any sort of overt affectionate displays. And I think itís because when itís two girls it sticks out a lot less. I donít think it raises as many eyebrows."

Young says thereís not much gay coupling on campus, that a lot of socializing takes place in the city, beyond the collegeís rolling green hills. But, he says, "thereís not a lot of straight couples either. Itís not really a dating school. I know a lot of guys who have boyfriends at other schools. I personally donít think I would ever be in a relationship with another BC guy. I donít know why; I think it might be that the gay community thatís out and vocal around here is smaller, and you know everyone."

The message seems to be that Boston College is basically an accepting place, even if it could be more open. Still, the stereotypes are there. Though its ranking improved in 2004, two years earlier BC was ranked the second-most-homophobic school by the Princeton Review survey. "That statistic was horrifying," says Young, whoíd already been accepted to the school when he heard about it. He remembers coming for a tour of campus and stopping a bystander. "I said, ĎI know this is awkward, but Iím gay. And I need to know: if I come here, is it going to be hellish?í There was a guy behind her, and he overheard me. He pulled me aside and said he was gay. That set me at ease. He said there were definitely [other gay] people here. It wasnít the strongest community you were going to find, but it was something they were working toward. Itís part of the reason I came here. This drive to want to make some change here and build a community. To help BC get rid of that stigma and bring more GLBT students into the school."

Even collecting signatures for a petition to get the nondiscrimination referendum on the ballot offered some lessons. I ask Young if there were any stereotypically macho jocks he was afraid to approach. "I took a couple chances, and I was really surprised," he says. "A lot of them were more than willing. The one guy who I was not going to go up to at all, he was so eager to sign. He was like, ĎThis is ridiculous, things need to change around here.í That really surprised me. I had no fear for the rest of the day."

Still, Boston College is not without its problems. Salter still remembers how crappy he felt when, just weeks after he arrived as a freshman, BCís archconservative St. Thomas More Society invited psychologist Paul Cameron of the Family Research Institute to campus to lay out his case against gay marriage. Cameron, whose membership in the American Psychological Association has been revoked, has said that "homosexuality is a crime against humanity" and has advocated the forcible tattooing and quarantining of AIDS patients.

"We quickly organized, with very little effort, over 150 students to attend his lecture, all leave at the same time, and go attend a counter event in the same building," Salter recalls. "The faculty got behind it, too, because they had a legitimate concern that BC was bringing speakers to campus that have no academic credibility." Salter, however, is secure in his identity and passionate in his beliefs. Not everyone is. "You come here as a freshman and the first event on campus is Paul Cameron," he says. "If you were a gay freshman, and you were unsure, and you saw this ... itís horrible."

Of course, the Cameron lecture would have taken place whether or not BCís nondiscrimination policy included sexual orientation. But Salter says the symbolic heft of that clause is as important as its legality, and could go a long way toward sending a message to BCís gay students that theyíre welcome ó and toward sending the message to the world that BC is a tolerant and accepting place.

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Issue Date: April 22 - 28, 2005
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