Friday, April 8, 2011

Limiting Safe Space

Recently an amendment was passed to the Texas state budget involving funding for centers such as UT’s Gender and Sexuality Center (GSC). The amendment attempts to get funding for a traditional family values center to counteract a resource like the GSC on a state college’s campus. I find this amendment idiotic, homophobic, and sexist. The GSC provides resources to oppressed groups on campus that face discrimination and provides a much needed safe place to the women and LGBTQIA identified members of the UT community. The importance of this safe spaces stems from the oppression these groups face and a traditional family values center would just increase the oppression by furthering the homophobic message that queer individuals lead immoral lives. If anyone knows me, I’m opinionated and I share my opinions to anyone who will listen when it comes to social justice issues. Unfortunately, I lost my only personal safe space by sharing my opinion about this issue.

As many college students do, I call a cramped dorm room I share with one other person home. Although my walls are made of concrete and all my furniture is attached to the wall, I’ve done my best to turn my side of the room into a cozy sanctuary overlooking north campus. In all of Austin, this is my only opportunity for a personal safe place but I am forced to share it with my roommate. I have always thought that the homophobia stopped when I shut my door. I thought of my door as magic and as long as I was inside my room, I was safe from hateful comments. I often talked to my roommate (sometimes ranted) about anything I found homophobic, racist, sexist, classist, or oppressive to any group of people. I knew we didn’t agree on everything, but I never expected to hear anything homophobic. A few days ago, I talked with my roommate about the traditional family values center. My roommate expressed her approval of it and continued to inform me of her opinion on the sinfulness of gay sex. I talked to her for about an hour and by the end of the conversation I was hurt. I found my roommate’s opinions homophobic and at times sexist. It turns out my door isn’t magical and hate has infested my safe space.

I feel compelled to tell my personal story because I want to provide a real world example of why safe space is so important especially to someone of a marginalized identity. Oppression upon marginalized identities prevents individuals with these identities to feel comfortable and safe at times while in public. For most people, their home is their refuge. College students living in dorm environments do not always have that luxury. The college dorm does not provide complete privacy. The combination of the nature or dorm life combined with the bad luck of a non-ally roommate, deprives dorm residents of their refuge. For this reason, spaces such as the GSC are vital to the well-being of many students.

The valuable service the GSC provides to the UT campus by offering a safe space for the queer identified students cannot be found anywhere else on campus. The center proposed in the amendment to the budget would undermine the GSC and cause division on campus. Essentially, the center would focus on heterosexuality and would denounce queer identities. Honestly, it would be redundant. Straight people are the cultural norm and heterosexism permeates everything. I often get mad at my Spanish textbook for being heteronormative. Information on healthy sexuality for heterosexual identified individuals is already readily available on campus. Not only is the traditional family values center not needed, the center would cause division.

The center would give students an outlet for homophobia and polarize the UT community. My safe space within my dorm has vanished due to simply the suggestion of a traditional family values center. If the center were to actually be implemented, the UT campus would most likely split into three groups: one group backing the GSC, one group backing the traditional family values center, and of course one apathetic group. Also, I fail to understand how a center advocating for equality for a marginalized group can exist while another center advocates for their depravity. In my opinion, the centers would not be able to coexist.

I have a request. Go to the GSC and take a friend with you. Even if you are a supporter of a traditional family values center, go. See for yourself the beauty of the space. See that it is not a place of sinfulness but instead a place of acceptance.

Now I want to leave all my peers who also care about equality with a quote from Gloria Anzalduá.

“Though we tremble before uncertain futures may we meet illness, death, and adversity with strength. May we dance in the face of our fears”

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