Gay for a day

 
 

In light of recent incidents in Belfield, Natalie Voorheis questions whether UCD offers an accepting environment for gay people.

Recently a homosexual couple was asked to stop being intimate by a member of security in the Forum Bar at a Literary and Historical Society (L&H) event. The position of members of the gay community within the student body has been thrown into doubt and many students have expressed anger and concern over the incident. Many students are asking whether UCD is actually as accepting of the gay community as we perceive it to be.

Throughout history many people have campaigned and fought for the right of homosexuals to be accepted, treated equally and valued. A recent film, Milk, highlighted the plight of one of these pioneers, Harvey Bernard Milk, an American politician in the 60s and 70s who was the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California. Milk became a role model for his generation. Under his influence the United States began to become more open to the gay community. Tragically Milk was assassinated in 1978 but has become a martyr for gay rights.

Another landmark was reached in 1988 when an eight year long legal battle ended in Washington where Georgetown University agreed to give homosexual student groups the same privileges as other student groups on campus.

31 years after Milk’s assassination and 21 years after the end of the legal battle with Georgetown University the struggle for gay rights is still as topical as ever. Every new generation likes to believe that they have moved on from the dated opinions and actions of their predecessors but how far has society really come if a same sex couple cannot even kiss each other on a student campus in a relaxed social setting?

Nursing student, Alice Byrne spoke to The University Observer about the issue explaining, “I think that UCD is undoubtedly accepting of gay students. In my classes the people who would be gay or lesbian wouldn’t be treated any differently from anybody else… Amongst my peers anyway we don’t judge a person by who they are physically attracted to we judge them by who they are.”

“Amongst my peers anyway we don’t judge a person by who they are physically attracted to we judge them by who they are”

The use of phrases such ‘gay’ and ‘bent’ amongst the student community is both common and controversial. Many students will use the terms lightly in a context such as expressing distaste at something. This is, without doubt, a thoughtless use of the terms but is so common that many students never think twice about it.

When asked if she used the terms and how she felt about using them Byrne answered, “Yeah I do use those terms, I don’t like the fact that I use them because it is derogatory of an entire group of people but I don’t know, I find that it is engrained into my vocabulary just because it is so commonly used. I think in some ways that it’s a bit of a shame that that is an acceptable thing to say. Negative connotations have been put on the word gay by the way we use it but it should be positive and accepted.”

This appears to be common practice for many UCD students, but how does this serve to subconsciously ostracise gay people on campus? Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) Rights Officer and former LGBT Auditor, believes that negative incidents appear to be isolated. She was keen to express that until now LGBT members have always felt safe and at home in the Forum Bar where LGBT society events are regularly held.

Finlay explained, “I was very surprised to hear about that thing in the Forum Bar because I know myself as well as loads of other LGBT people I know have been kissing their partners in the bar and have never got any hassle about it but obviously this is last year before Pulse Security came in.”

Although the actions of the security team seem to represent a campus where authorities are not always accepting of gay couples, Finlay pointed out that this was not in line with the actions of the wider student community. Although Finlay mentioned a handful of minor incidents where the LGBT was targeted, such as posters being ripped down, she did not lay much importance on this and spoke positively about student perceptions of LGBT members.
“I know myself I’m totally comfortable walking around campus holding hands with another girl and I know that other people are too… There are quite a large percentage of gay students here proportional to the fact that we are the biggest university in the country… I think on the whole it’s okay to be gay here.”

Although Finlay does not feel the wider student community are generally actively against about gay couples on campus she did express concern at misconceptions held by students and the stereotyping of LGBT members as a result of this. “There is the perception that, for example, all lesbians have really short hair or that all gay men are a feminine and camp.”

Finlay aims to tackle these attitudes in workshops about stereotyping held as part of Rainbow Week. With events such as this running, perhaps UCD as a whole will grow to forget even the isolated incidents of prejudice and stand up and say ‘its okay to be gay!’.

Fact Box:
• Famous writer Oscar Wilde was imprisoned for being homosexual. He was convicted of “gross indecency” with other men and served a sentence of two years hard labour.
• Same sex marriage is not and has never been recognised by the Irish Government but this was contested
• The first openly gay man to be elected to public office in Ireland was Senator David Norris. Senator Norris challenged the Irish government’s position on homosexualty and won. Homosexuality has been legal since 1993.

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