Published: March 24 2004
“When I graduate I would like to find a good job, buy a house, and fall in love,” said Doug (not his real name). “Oh yeah, I’d like to get a dog too.”
Doug, 24, wants what every student wants – the American dream, but because he is gay and has not “come out” to friends and family, his dream of “falling in love” could meet opposition.
He thought his mother had discovered his sexual orientation when she found some of his drawings involving two males.
“She asked me why I didn’t draw cars or houses. I think deep down she might know.”
According to Doug, for several years his mother has been pressuring him to get married to a “nice girl.” He continues to evade her comments with vague generalities, and says he will only “come out” to his family once he has moved from the area.
Doug’s mother is a nurse and he says that she has made negative comments about gay patients, and two weeks ago he heard his father say that he “hates faggots.”
“When I tell [my father] that I am gay, it will be like he doesn’t have a son anymore,” said Doug.
Deanna Grace, freshman, realized that she was a lesbian when, at 10 years old, she had a crush on a female student.
Later in high school, she and her girlfriend kept their relationship a secret. Eventually, the secret was uncovered when students discovered a love letter that Grace had written.
“All of the students began calling me ‘dike’ and ‘queer,'” said Grace.
Brent Cox, coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), says that situations like Grace’s happen all too often and that it is unacceptable.
“The ACLU focuses on civil rights for everybody, including gays and lesbians,” said Cox, a gay man. “Escambia County has been hostile towards gay students in the past.”
In 2001 Escambia County received national attention when students at Escambia high school tried to form a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA). The movement to start the club dissolved when Principal Delores Morris said that club member’s parents would be notified of their child’s involvement.
While no other high school club requires the same parental notification, Morris is reported as saying, “you should always communicate with parents, especially if you think their child is going to be in a controversial issue.”
However, some disagree with the notion that homosexuality is a sexual orientation.
Dr. Dale Patterson, pastor of East Brent Baptist Church, has counseled many parishioners that have struggled with their sexuality. He says that he has personally counseled people involved in a homosexual lifestyle and has seen them “recover.”
Patterson explains that he first shows people “the only authority, which is the Bible,” and teaches them that homosexuality is a sin. He then sets up weekly counseling sessions and encourages the person to pray and read the Bible every day.
“It’s not a sexual orientation. It’s sin and can become addictive like any other sin. I try to help them realize that and once they see it for what it is, then recovery can happen,” said Patterson.
Marge Cumpston, president of Parents, Family, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), disagrees and says that attempting to change a person’s sexual orientation can be extremely damaging to the person.
“Imagine trying to take a straight person and make them gay,” she said.
She likens “recovering” from sexual orientation to going on a diet.
“I can force myself to go on a diet and stop eating chocolate cake for the rest of my life if I wanted to, but I would be miserable.”
Cumpston is married and the mother of two gay daughters. She said that parents make a big mistake when they plan their children’s lives for them instead of letting their child develop naturally.
Matt Bubien, sophomore, is different from Doug in that he has come out to his friends and family. He says he always felt a “little different.” Early on he thought it was just a phase. He thought that he would grow out of it and still “marry a woman one day.”
Bubien said he finally realized that it was a lifestyle and “people could really live with this.”
“I had two routes that I could take. I could deny it or I could accept it and accept the consequences that may come along with it – be it discrimination or loss of friendships. I knew that there was no point in making myself unhappy to make other people happy,” Bubien said.
Lauren Rice, 20, revived the GSA chapter at the University of West Florida last year and it is currently the only GSA chapter in Escambia County. GSA’s mission, according to its Web site, is to establish a campus environment, “free of prejudice based on sexual orientation or any other form of discrimination.”
Rice and her partner, Leeann David, are engaged and plan to marry this month in Niagara Falls, Ontario, where same-sex marriage is legal.
“Even though our marriage will not be recognized in Florida, we still want to do it,” Rice said.
The two met a year ago at a GSA meeting and since then have dealt with discrimination as a couple. They were holding hands while shopping in a local grocery store and the store manager yelled at them, said Rice.
“He told us to cut it out and said we couldn’t [hold hands] in the store. We just left our cart sitting there. We were humiliated,” she said.
David, a UWF senior, says that students should only “come out” when they are ready to tell friends and family in a way that they are comfortable with. Doug hopes to be ready one day.
“I’m not right. I’m not wrong. I have no idea who is right or wrong. This is a problem that eats on you. I wish people could see the world through other people’s eyes. It might change things,” he said.