New Class Explores Place Of Gays In History

UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA – Suzy Chandler found an accepting community in her history class.
The sophomore in New College, who is gay, said she is enrolled in a Modern Gay America class at the Capstone. Chandler said she heard about the class through Crossroads Community Center, and decided to enroll. She said being able to see where she fits into history is one of the many benefits of the class.
“Most of us have found community in this class,” Chandler said. “And there are straight people here, but they are our allies.”
“Homosexual” is a term commonly used today, but the term was actually coined by German scientists in 1869, said Josh Burford, coordinator of freshman community outreach.
The Capstone now offers a history class that explores where gay people fit into the larger history of America and the world.
Burford teaches one section of Modern Gay America this semester to 38 students, who are gay, straight and undecided in sexual orientation.
“I have a lot of straight students, many are from up north and are used to being around gay people and are comfortable in that environment,” Burford said. “And some haven’t been around it [gay culture] but think that it’s an experience that they need and want.”
The class was scheduled to have 30 students, but was expanded to 40 because of the interest from students, Burford said.
“The most unexpected thing about this class is that I’ve had to turn away at least a dozen students,” Burford said. “It hurts me to have to tell them no, but we have limited space.”
Burford said this is the first class where most of his students never miss class, are excited about his lectures and stay after class ends to ask questions.
“What’s really nice about the class is that they’ve formed a little community,” Burford said. “I see them helping each other and hanging out together.”
The class meets every Tuesday and Thursday from 10 to 11:15 a.m. in Room 105 of ten Hoor Hall. Discussions consist of the history of gay people, and the impact both science and religion has on the way society views people who identify as being gay.
“We just stopped being considered mentally ill 30 years ago,” Burford said. “Having this class at Alabama shows that we’ve made some progress.”
Burford also said he along with instructors from the Department of Women’s Studies, show films related to the topics discussed in class as a supplement outside. Seven will be shown this semester, usually in ten Hoor, and they are open to the public, he said.
The next film is “The Children’s Hour” starring Audrey Hepburn and Shirley McClaine. It will show in Rm. 205 of Gorgas Library at 7p.m., and is open to the public.
About 50 students show up for each film, Burford said.
The outreach programs are designed to get people with different orientations and backgrounds to meet before they decide to hate each other, Burford said.
“The idea of homophobia is that people don’t see enough [openly gay people] around here,” he said. “It is difficult to hate someone when they have a face; when they’re standing right in front of you.”
Burford said the steps the Capstone has taken are a good start, but he said more things need to be done to promote understanding.
“You can have all the forums and speakers you want, and everybody will go back home and nothing changes,” Burford said. “People really need to sit down together and talk.”
The Modern Gay America class gives students a chance to do just that, Burford said. And while he said he doesn’t know if the class will be offered again in the fall, he said it is filling a need on the campus.
“I want my students to know everything, and do more,” he said. “We aren’t a training camp. I’m just giving them ideas.”
Sarah Keath, a junior majoring in forensics and criminology, said seeing the bravery of gay people in the past encourages her.
“We think it hard now to be like ‘I’m queer; get over it,'” Keath said. “Imagine what it was like in the 1940’s.”
Alex Perkins, a freshman majoring in theater and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual) studies said University administrators need to make changes to help the gay community find acceptance within the larger community.
“There’s this huge separation between gay people and straight people,” Perkins said. “People feel separated, and they don’t know what to do about it.”
Chris Grant, a junior majoring in nursing, said he thinks members of the gay community seclude themselves for protection.
“Straight guys aren’t comfortable around me,” Grant said. “They’re homophobic because they don’t understand the fact that we aren’t going to hit on them.”
Grant said the administration could take steps to open up communication between gay and straight people.
“If University Programs brought in gay-friendly performers and entertainers, who either are gay or have friends that are gay and can talk about it, they could open people’s minds,” Grant said.
Chandler said she didn’t want the Capstone to make changes that would force people to participate if they don’t want to.
“We just want a safe place in the community,” Chandler said. “We aren’t that different from anyone else, and we aren’t trying to take things over.”
Perkins said that ultimately the responsibility to make a change rest with the students, not the administration.
“If we include everyone we can build relationships, and relationships build power, and power can build revolution on campus,” he said. “Then [your sexual orientation] won’t matter.”
from The Crimson White

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