U of U weighs in on campus climate scale for first year

by STEPHANIE FERRER-CARTER

When interns and the advisor from the LGBT Resource Center at the University of Utah go recruiting at local high schools in an effort to turn graduating students into the school’s next batch of freshmen, they’ll have the U’s honor roll standing to aid them.

In today’s competitive campus atmosphere, students are not the only ones being evaluated on whether they meet the qualifications of a school. Students seeking a school that caters to their individual needs and desires in areas outside the curriculum also are scrutinizing universities nationwide.

While the U is looking at applicants’ grade point averages, some students will be looking at the school’s gay point average. The University of Utah is one of two Utah colleges and universities ranked on The Campus Climate Scale. The scale is designed to measure and rate how LGBTQ-friendly a certain campus is and ranks colleges and universities nationwide, giving future students access to the school’s ratings and the ability to search different schools online.

Daniel Hill, 18, is the youth program coordinator for Tolerant, Intelligent Network of Teens(TINT), a chapter of the Utah Pride Center, which serves teens, between 14 and 20 years of age. Hill, who is gay, graduated from East High School in Salt Lake City in 2005.

Hill said an LGBTQ-friendly campus is more important than incoming students may realize. “At the time when I was trying to figure out what colleges I was going to go to, or whether I was going to head straight out to a university, it wasn’t a big deal,” he said. “But then when I got into the scene and I got my job here, I heard stories saying how it can be just as bad than, if not worse, depending on what college and what state you’re in. So I would totally think that [the U’s ranking on the Campus Climate Scale] would be a beneficial thing for anyone.”

The U has an overall ranking of 4.5 out of five stars, placing it in the top 30 LGBTQ-friendly campuses on the list nationally, and in the top 10 in the Western region of the schools featured.

“This is more based on the certain policies we have at the University of Utah,” said Cathy Martinez, director of the U’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center. “This isn’t based on a survey of students.”

Martinez said researchers who created the Web site contacted her and sent her a survey, which she completed by calling various departments at the U. She spoke with people within the departments who were best qualified to answer the specific questions of the survey.

“I didn’t answer it based on what I thought was true,” Martinez said. “I answered it based on talking to somebody in housing and residential life, or campus safety and what their answers were.”

Martinez then returned the survey to the Campus Climate Scale, which calculated the U’s overall score according to the site’s assessment standards.

According to the site, the national average is a three-star rating. Utah’s only other ranked campus, Utah State University, has a two-star rating.

But what looks like a below-average score may not necessarily mean USU isn’t making the grade.

Martinez says the LGBT Resource Center at USU is new this year. A search of the school’s Web site did not yield any specific web pages or contact information for the center.

“The fact that they have a resource center is a positive thing,” she said. “It’s taken us since 2002 [the year the U’s LGBT Resource Center opened] to get to this point.”

Martinez says she believes USU is taking steps to become more LGBT-friendly, and that the low ranking does not mean it is not a good school.

The U scored a full five stars in areas like Academic Life, Student Life, Counseling and Health and Recruitment and Retention Efforts due to efforts to improve the services offered by the LGBT Resource Center and annual student recruitment.

The U’s lowest rankings were three out of five stars in LGBT Policy Inclusion and Housing and Residence Life.

However, Martinez cautioned that these rankings could be misleading.

Some of the U’s missed points came from policies concerning employees, not students, such as cheaper health care for married employees or the ability to buy life insurance for oneself, but not one’s partner.

Martinez also said that not every answer to every question was clear-cut. The U does prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, but she says the policy could be made stronger by also including gender expression and gender identity in it.

The U’s low score in LGBT Housing and Residence Life may be due to the fact that the school does not provide themed housing for LGBTQ students. Martinez said the school does have a diversity-themed house, which may not be specific to the students, but certainly includes them.

Overall, Martinez said she feels the U’s score is an accurate reflection of the campus’ climate.

“It says a lot to LGBT students. It says the university is actively making changes, acknowledging the fact that these services for LGBT students, faculty and staff are important,” she said.

But the fact that the survey isn’t student-based could bring the U’s high score into question. Martinez said there are surveys conducted by students that have listed the U as the least LGBTQ friendly.

“So depending on who you’re asking the questions of, you’re going to get different answers,” she said.

David Daniels, 21, a volunteer at the U’s LGBT Resource Center, thinks the poor student evaluations could be due to students not finding the resources that the university does have to offer.

“I know students who are on this campus and don’t feel like it’s very LGBT friendly,” Daniels said. “I think the university does a lot of things to just be aware of the diversity population that we have here on campus. And I think there are a lot of outlets. However, I don’t know if we do enough here to make those outlets available and known to people.”

It has yet to be seen whether the U’s honor-roll ranking on the scale will influence incoming freshman.

“I think certainly, to a degree, when you have information like that, it can have an impact,” Daniels said. “What’s more important is finding out for yourself; going to a campus, doing a tour and actually asking people who are there.”

Stuck in the middle: Some bisexuals struggle to overcome stereotypes

by MISSY THOMPSON

They are called fence-sitters, undecided or confused. Generally they are not accepted by straight or gay people, although the straight community lumps them in with the LGBT community.

Bisexuals have been marginalized for many years because they are underrepresented within the LGBT community. Stereotypes surround them like a cloud.

One misconception is that they are promiscuous because they are attracted to both sexes. However, many don’t fit this stereotype because they believe in monogamous relationships, whether it’s with a man or woman.

“There is not a lot of respect for bisexuals,” said Bonnie Owens, a senior at the University of Utah and an intern at the campus LGBT Resource Center. “Some people believe it’s just a transition period.”

Bisexuals are included in the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) acronym that has become the most widely accepted term for describing members of this population. But, the problem with bisexuality being part of the LGBT acronym is that they are not accepted by either gays or straight individuals, Owens said.

“There’s a saying: ‘Bi now, gay later,'” she said, referring to the misperception that bisexuals will eventually become gay or lesbian.

Owens and LGBT Resource Center Director Cathy Martinez are working to reaching out to misrepresented LGBT communities — including bisexuals — by making them feel as if they are part of the community. Although no definite plans have been made, Owens believes they need to be included considering they are part of the acronym.

“We are bringing bisexuality into a light of inclusiveness,” Owens said. “[The media] have sexualized bisexuality.”

But making bisexuals feel included in the LGBT community will be difficult because they are looked down on by gays, lesbians and straight people.

“Female bisexuality is more acceptable,” Owens said. “For males it is more of an issue of if you are [gay] or aren’t. A man is questioned more and thought of as testing the waters. It’s much less accepted.”

Bisexuality in younger males is questioned even more. Tom Campbell, 17, a senior at Tooele High School in Tooele, Utah, has been out about his bisexuality for a year. He has seen some people be completely supportive of his lifestyle, while others are less inclined to treat him the same as they did before they learned he is bi.

“There are a lot of people who treat you different in high school,” Campbell said. “Kids give you a lot of crap [for being bisexual]. My doctor even put me on anti-depressants.”

Campbell believes it’s difficult for people, especially high school teenagers, to understand that having equal interest in males and females is normal for him.

“I’m asked if I’m gay a lot and I say, ‘No, I’m bi, there’s a big difference between the two,'” he said. “I have a strong attraction to both [men and women]. I like variety.”

He has also seen the difference in the way bisexual women are treated compared to bisexual men.

“When you’re at a dance club and two girls are dancing together in a cage it’s OK,” Campbell said. “But when I’m up there with another guy, it isn’t.”

Campbell is a member of the Tooele High stage crew where he helps build and design scenery for the plays the school produces. Some of the crew members who know he is sexual orientation have treated him differently.

“It’s funny because when you’re with [stage] crew it’s like your family, but I’m not myself,” he said. “It’s the people you’re around that make you feel comfortable and OK with your sexuality.”

Although lesbian and gay have overshadowed the ‘B’ in LGBT, it is a lifestyle that bisexuals accept despite pressure from both the LGBT and straight communities.

For instance, Wendy Lynn, 43, an environmental studies student at the U, never questioned her bisexuality and has embraced her lifestyle.

“I didn’t realize I was different,” Lynn said in the Ray Olpin Union building over a cup of coffee. “I thought it was acceptable if men were with men and women were with women. I reasoned this as an 11-year-old.”

Lynn was raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and during a
Primary lesson — a Sunday school-like teaching session for children — challenged a teacher who couldn’t give her the answers she wanted. She was taken to the Bishop, who told her not to vocalize her thoughts.

“I didn’t realize I was voicing an anti-opinion,” she said. “I stopped attending church at age 12.”

Her sexual orientation didn’t come up again until after she was married at the age of 18. When she was driving with her husband one day, Lynn saw a woman who she believed was beautiful. Lynn didn’t think twice about telling her husband that they should ask the woman to go out to dinner with them. Later, she wondered, “What was I thinking?”

“I was in a marriage and at that moment [of seeing the woman] all I wanted to do was spend time with her,” Lynn said. “A time came when it was clear to my husband that I was different. But I didn’t plan on pursuing it.”

Lynn and her husband divorced after three years of marriage. Eventually she began a 10-year relationship with a woman. Lynn said they would still be together if it weren’t for her partner’s alcohol abuse.

The only time Lynn felt accepted by the LGBT community was when she was with a woman. Her life revolved around this community while she was with her girlfriend. She hung out at bars that her friends frequented. But, once she began a relationship with a man, Lynn lost the majority of her friends.

“[Gays] have their own social network,” she said. “It was my social life. When I chose to be with a man [my life] was gone and now I have very few friends. [Bisexuality] is not a choice for most people,” she said. “Because it was for me, people can’t accept that.”

Lynn has been in a relationship with the same man since 1998. They were married, then divorced. Now, they are living together again, but are no longer married.

“For me, I grow more spiritually when I’m in a committed relationship,” Lynn said. “You don’t learn enough about yourself when you’re not. You have to find a partner who mirrors you, it’s easier to survive that way. I commit everything I can to one relationship, otherwise I get lonely.”

Since she has been with a man, her parents have been more supportive about her sexuality. Because they don’t see Lynn with another woman it’s as if they can pretend she is straight.

“I can be honest with who I am,” she said. “My boyfriend doesn’t care what [other people] think. He will always support who I am.”

Ultimately it doesn’t matter to Lynn whether her partner is male or female.

“I will never stop being attracted to men and women,” she added.

Lynn’s philosophy is that in any population, 10 percent are gay and 10 percent are straight. Everyone else – mainly bisexuals – fall in the middle. That large gray area is where she, and many others, fit in.

“Some people who are bisexual may just be experimenting,” she said. “Sexuality is fluid and more people are deciding that it’s OK to be different.”

Because Lynn is older, she has seen many of the hardships bisexuals have faced over the years. Most of the time, she said, they weren’t necessarily persecuted, but definitely had a hard time fitting in with both the LGBT and straight communities.

Lynn has lived in Utah, California and Montana, but the only time she felt her life was threatened was in Wyoming where LGBT individuals have been killed because of their orientation. On another occasion at the gay club, Sun, in downtown Salt Lake City, a group of men surrounded the exit. Lynn, unaware they were there, nearly walked out but was pulled back inside before she could get hurt.

“I look conservative, I’m never dishonest,” Lynn said. “I’m not one of those in-your-face people. I feel safe sitting here in the Union when a few years ago, I never would have.”

Nevertheless, bisexuals still have to fight for approval from society.

For instance, the Utah Bisexual Support Group was only recently allowed to hold meetings at the Utah Pride Center in downtown Salt Lake City.

“We are viewed with as much suspicion in the gay community as in the straight,”
Lynn said. “Bisexuality for me has very little to do with who I choose — whether male or female. I don’t take sex seriously, but there has to be a serious attraction. In that case I don’t want to limit myself.”

Campbell and Lynn are just two of many bisexual individuals living in Utah who don’t feel at home in the gay and lesbian or straight communities. Until one, or both, sides decide to accept them, bisexuals will continue to live in limbo.