August 21, 2016

REDDY | Why and How LGBT Resources Need to Change

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It didn’t take more than one semester at Cornell for me to realize how extremely competitive we all are with each other, but not in the conventional sense. What seems like the standard grappling for achievement is only our brand of competition at its surface. Each of us strives to be the one who is doing, or rather, struggling the most. Who pulls the most all-nighters, takes the most credits, has the most prelims lined up for next week and won’t let you forget any of it. When you complain about trudging through the unending daily tasks, you are the jaded, quintessential Cornell student in all his or her glory.

Ironically, commenting on how unhealthily stressed out we are actually works to improve our psychological well-being. We feel more socially connected to everyone involved in our university lives, from the entire student body all the way down to our major, dorm, and/or our club-specific friend groups; masochism dominates throughout. For me, it was my hall in Clara Dickson, almost exclusively occupied by computer science majors that contentedly labored together through Discrete Structures, Functional Programming and ‘R’ (whatever that is). Although some of these tech geniuses became my closest friends freshman year, I still felt somewhat isolated when I was with them, and it wasn’t due to my embarrassingly minimal amount of coding knowledge.

I, and a number of LGBT Cornellians, have struggled with the idea of coming out to our friends. The fear is not of outright rejection but rather of disconnection: knowing that sharing a fact about yourself could cause them to see you as someone fundamentally different from who they have known, or just assumed you to be.  A closeted person can go to great lengths to avoid being outed, and as a result, the distance between public identity and private identity continues to widen; the desire to be oneself grows stronger.

Resources at Cornell target this need by offering tight-knit communities, bonded by an identity that makes some of us insecure. They are stocked with welcoming atmospheres, nonjudgmental, confidential discussions, and understanding fellow students, peers that can be just a little too willing to “relate.”  A quick visit to the LGBT resource webpage can direct you to dozens of ultra-specific groups on campus — the more identifiable, the better.  One example: For the male student who is gay, who is black and/or white, who is in a relationship with someone of a different race, the National Association of Black and White Men Together is an option.

Fragmentation into increasingly personal groups, however, is not the way to go; it sends the message that we can only hope to find quality relationships with others “just like us” after coming out, defeating the value of diversity that these organizations try to project. We are thereby implicitly instructed to retreat into sheltered companionship, and to move away from the rest of the judgmental world, only allowed to fully express ourselves when amongst people of the same expressions.  LGBT students can become overly dependent on these groups, and consequently less integrated into the University at large.  This sentiment can explain the unwillingness of transgender women, for example, to appear in the Vagina Monologues production this past March, for risk of making themselves visible at the most anticipated event on campus of the year.

To provide support more effectively, the focus needs to shift from sequestering the LGBT community into closed-off groups to encouraging open, widespread LGBT awareness throughout the entire campus. Cornell as a whole needs to be a “safe place,” a place where LGBT students and heterosexual, cis-gendered students can have meaningful discourse about the identities that make them who they are. In this type of environment, students who are “in the closet” can gain more self-acceptance and may even begin to feel comfortable enough to come out. They could have the foresight that friendships don’t have to be strained, as opposed to facing uncertainty. To Cornell’s credit, this perspective is not utterly neglected. There is an Ally Support link on the LGBT resource webpage, but it only offers a definition of what an ally is (heterosexual people who are supporters and defenders of the LGBT community) and a few documents informing the potential ally of why their advocacy is valued, as compared to the subsequent attempt to categorize all possible combinations of sexual, gender, racial, and religious identity. It’s obvious there is still plenty of room for change.

The essential goal is to recognize similarities and embrace differences. Ultimately, LGBT resources should be framed as a Pride parade: Neon colors from different corners of the color spectrum bursting everywhere. Each color represents a different sect of the community, mixed together to illustrate tolerance and solidarity. There’s a reason the symbol of the movement is a rainbow; a rainbow in which red (or carnelian) and white will always represent the quintessential, overtaxed, burnt-out Cornell student — gay or straight.

Narayan Reddy is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at nreddy@cornellsun.com. Reddy Set Go appears alternating Mondays this semester.

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