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“Not So Out”: A Discussion of Visibility at the LGBT+ College Conference at MTSU

May 13, 2017 - Uncategorized -
Story by Rebekah Dawson

Many folks know the struggle of keeping pieces of themselves hidden. The myth of the one-and-done coming out is prevalent throughout much of the media but seldom plays out in reality. This was one of the many issues discussed at the LGBT+ College Conference this past April. In the student session “Not So Out”, session leaders Bekah Dawson, Alex Hall, and Elizabeth Burns outlined various areas of life and why many people may struggle to choose not to be out and open about their LGBT+ identity there.

Policy and statistics about school and work set up the session, but the true shape of the event was made in the participant discussion. Many people shared their experience about school, work, and in their communities online and offline. As people from across the spectrum and allies shared their different experiences – good and bad – there came a few places where experiences were more universal: at middle schools and within university curriculum. Of course most people would expect to hear of specific horrors in being out in middle school. However, college curriculum was an unexpected subject.

Students traded stories of coming out to professors or the nature of microagressions among students in their various universities and different departments. It became apparent that classroom climate was nearly universally impacted by LGBT representation in the curriculum itself. While some schools, including MTSU, have nondiscrimination policies in practice for students, inclusion is still an issue in the classroom: LGBT people are not in the textbooks; LGBT policy is absent from political science classes; contributions in business and aviation are ignored; LGBT issues are glossed over in social work classes; and organizations and details of the AIDS epidemic are lost in history classrooms. While students are accepted in many classrooms, they are left to discover LGBT contributions without the help of teachers or mentors.

Many people are familiar with the narrative of “I thought I was the only one” in the LGBT community in their youth. So many people advocate for more visibility in television and books, but few consider school curriculum as a medium for visibility. Visibility in this area is crutial for the academic and work career for LGBT people across various fields. The discussion from this session highlighted the need for us to begin to focus on this piece of visibility as well. That is what the LGBT+ College Conference is all about. “Removing Obstacles to Inclusion” first requires that the obstacles be made visible so that we can overcome them. At 2018’s LGBT+ College Conference, we will continue the conversation about this and other issues with the theme “Bridging the Divide”. There will no doubt be more conversation about where we need to be, but also how we can get there and how we can be stronger together.