what's in a
College clubs strive to express identity
by Erika Prins
igher education institutes in the region, both public and private, have long skirted around the word "gay" when naming their LGBT clubs. What's the big deal--a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, right? Perhaps, but the issue of naming exposes deeper rifts on campuses between LGBT students, their peers, and college administrators. Ben Bonnema was not "out" when he arrived at Whitworth University his freshman year. As a matter of fact, he was not even sure himself if he was gay. Two and a half years later, the Junior theatre and music major is quite "out"--he is even the president of Open Conversation: Orientation, the newly-chartered LGBT group on campus. Bonnema remembers appreciating the resource of a club called Unity in Action when he came out-- though the group was, at the time, not officially chartered through the university as an LGBT club. "It felt good to talk through [my coming-out experience] with a group of people who, I didn't know necessarily but I knew they all understood," he says. Now he offers the same support to fellow students who are just coming out. He says the club benefits from the increased exposure that comes from being chartered as an LGBT club.
Open Conversation is Whitworth's first explicitly sexual orientation-related club to receive student government funding at Whitworth, a step forward for the university's LGBT community by Bonnema's standards. But some club members feel the group should have held out on being chartered until Whitworth's administration agreed to approve a club named "Gay-Straight Alliance," a move that has, so far, been barred. Lissie Mendes, senior English major and club vice president, refused to participate in Open Conversation when it was first chartered last year because she was outraged that the club had been pushed to compromise on its name. "Even being the vice president of the club, I still think it's ridiculous and I still don't think we should have given in to it," she says. "The name of the club is a trivial aspect.... It's a small issue that's actually representing the bigger issue that's going on, which is, the school will not support the gay community." Mendes says if the university will not allow support resources for its LGBT students, she would rather it be candid about not being a gayfriendly community. Gonzaga University formed a club called HERO (Helping Educate Regarding Orientation) in 1994
following two years of persistence in opposing the university's student government. It was the only club required to go before the university's board for approval. HERO was chartered only after making massive concessions on how the club would operate, a reality reflected in its title, which was prohibited from including the word "gay." The club was not allowed to discuss gay and lesbian issues except in an educational context, says former club president Ryan Olson. They had to include teaching the catholic perspective on the issue at the time, be affiliated with the Religious Studies department and have a Jesuit advisor. Anna Gonzales, director of Gonzaga's Multicultural Center where its GLBT resource center is housed, initially thought HERO was an anti-homosexuality club, confused by its ambiguous name. "That name just doesn't, to me, sound gay-friendly," she says. Gonzales says she believes the name caveat was put in place by the school's board to prevent losing donors. "We had to make a compromise and not call it a Gay-Straight Alliance to have the club," she says, "It's hard not to go ahead and name it what we wanted to because it's not recognizing who we are, but it's Name continued on page 15
www.qviewnorthwest.com | Q View Northwest - Spokane Edition | February 2009 |