Coming out against homophobia

Coming out against homophobia

By Rani Pimentel

Hosted by Northeastern University Bisexual, Lesbian and Gay Association (NUBiLAGA), last week was filled with events meant to open a new door to understanding and acceptance.

The U.S. Department of Justice reported homosexuals are probably the most frequent victims of hate crimes in the U.S. in history.

Northeastern’s campus does not seem to be an exception, according to members of NUBiLAGA.

Peter Karpathakis, a middler English and cinema studies major and co-chair of NUBiLAGA, said he has been openly gay for about a year.

“I came out as gay to myself and my friends last October and then I came out to my parents last January, so it hasn’t been that long for me really,” he said. “But I feel like college is when people really get a sense of who they are.”

After recently becoming the co-chair of NUBiLAGA, Karpathakis said Coming Out Week should be a part of every college campus’s activities.

“Whether it’s their sexuality, gender identity, career or just morals in general, college is the time for discovering all of that,” he said. “That is why I think National Coming Out Day should be recognized and celebrated on every college campus, to inform people about what’s out there.”

NUBiLAGA is known across campus as an organization uniting students without judging them for their sexuality, Karpathakis said.

“NUBiLAGA is first and foremost a safe space for students of all sexualities and gender identities to come and just feel comfortable,” he said. “But the bigger picture is making the world a safe space.”

Before joining the organization, Karpathakis experienced homophobia first-hand. After enjoying himself at a costume party he threw in his residence hall, he received harassing phone calls on his cell phone from a female.

“The thing I was worried about most was the fact that the girl was personally calling me ‘fairy boy’ the same night I had happened to be putting on a pirate and fairy party,” he said. “That couldn’t have been a coincidence, so I knew the girl and her friends in the background were probably living in my building.”

Another major goal of NUBiLAGA is to provide a network of allies that give positive support to the organization and members, Karpathakis said. He knows this is of great importance, because it was his friend helped him deal with the harassing phone calls.

“[The girl on the phone] said some pretty hateful things, but fortunately my friend was there, and she took the phone from me, and gave that girl a piece of her mind,” he said.

Although the phone calls continued for the next few days, Karpathakis was able to maintain his strength and dignity. Eventually, he overcame the obstacle having to deal with homophobia.

“Getting past it wasn’t too hard,” he said. “I had many friends to lean on and in the grand scheme of things my experience with discrimination was relatively mild compared to some of the things that have happened to other people.”

The other co-chair of NUBiLAGA, a middler computer science major, Robert Gable, said although Northeastern is an accepting campus, there will always be a barrier between students if there is a lack of knowledge about the homosexual and bisexual lifestyle.

“I feel like there is no conversation [about the issues]. We want to bring information and awareness to Northeastern,” he said.

During the Coming Out Week events, Gable was handing out T-shirts with “Gay? Fine By Me” written on them, when he was approached by a male student who had never met a homosexual person before.

“Honestly, my reaction was somewhere between ‘Wow, there are people who really don’t think they’ve met gay people,’ and ‘Oh boy, I get to make a difference today,'” he said. “It was equal parts surprise and excitement that I could actually show someone that gay people exist outside TV shows and stereotypes.”

Gable has been out about his sexuality since his freshman year of college.

“The process of figuring myself out in high school kept me from trying anything new or getting in any kind of relationship, so I missed a lot of opportunities,” he said. “When I got to college, I realized it was either five more years of being in the closet, or I could take a chance on actually living.”

Although coming out has opened a lot of doors, Gable does not believe being gay has significantly altered his life.

“If I had never had to face [my sexuality], I don’t think I would be in that different a place right now,” he said. “Fundamentally, it makes no difference to who I am. Being gay doesn’t make me funnier, smarter, more sociable or interesting. It just means that I have a different kind of love.”

Rebecca Tobin, a sophomore English major, has been openly gay since middle school. She said, like Gable, that she’s seen misconceptions.

“It is important to be proud of who we are because we have to have some sort of communal strength to draw on,” she said. “Homophobia is a hard thing to overcome and misconceptions about homosexuality are equally as hard to overcome.”

When asked about how public she makes her sexuality, she said that there is no reason to hide who she is.

“As to ‘flaunting it’ – I don’t think we necessarily ‘flaunt it’ in anyone’s face, but we don’t hide it. Why should we?” Tobin said. “Straight people aren’t asked to hide it: no one bats an eye when they see a guy and girl kissing on a street corner, but when it’s two men or two women, it’s perceived as them flaunting their sexuality.”

Tobin experienced her own dose of homophobia, and like Karpathakis, overcame it with strength, she said.

“I usually ignore the people who aren’t willing to accept me,” Tobin said. “If someone doesn’t like me because of my sexuality – which I see as something I couldn’t help and couldn’t change if I wanted to – it’s not my fault. It’s theirs for being unaccepting and unable to realize that not everyone is the same.”

National Coming Out Week will be celebrated on the Northeastern campus for years to come, in hopes of opening acceptance and understanding in to the gay, lesbian and bisexual communities, Karpathakis said.

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