By MIKI JENNINGS
Pima Community College theater major Mariah Adkisson, 19, knows first-hand the feeling of alienation that comes with being different due to her sexuality.
“I cannot stand it that most people know me by my sexuality before anything else,” Adkisson said. “Constantly being reminded that you’re different than everyone else sucks.”
The first thing Adkisson tells people is that she’s a stage manager, “but so many people walk through the hallway and it’s like ‘hey, there’s Mariah, the lesbian.’”
Adkisson’s Facebook profile reveals links to topics such as California’s Proposition 8, the military’s ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ policy and the suicide of gay youth activist Joseph Jefferson.
Jefferson’s death is one of several suicides committed by young gay males that have been publicized in the last two months.
“I feel that when a person feels no more connection to the outside world, they feel they have no choice and that’s their response,” Adkisson said of the suicides. “If your pastor and your parents and your teacher and your schoolmates are all telling you that, what other choice do you have but to believe it?”
Some gay Pima students, like Digital Arts major Andrew Lichty, 18, have a safe haven with friends and feel accepted at home.
“I got lucky because my friends and family are extremely supportive,” Lichty said. “It was never an issue with them and it never will be because I don’t associate with close-minded people.”
Despite his personal support system, Lichty said his comfort level changes when he is around people he does not know.
“I definitely do get self-conscious about making my sexuality known in public,” he said. “On dates, I’m nervous to hold a guy’s hand, for example, because I don’t want to attract attention from the wrong people. I think it’s best to keep my private life private.”
Other young adults experience serious hardships and conflicts with loved ones.
Half of all gay and lesbian youth report that their parents reject them due to their sexual orientation, according to statistics on the PFLAG Phoenix website for parents, families and friends of lesbians and gays. Twenty-six percent of homosexual youth leave home due to conflicts over their sexual orientation.
Pima student Sugey Lopez, 26, was kicked out of her house after “coming out” to her family.
“I was living in Mexico with Mormon parents,” she said. “When you’re the only one that lives against whatever the rules are, it’s really hard. When I came out, it was all negative reaction.”
Her parents told her that she was no longer part of the family and forced her to move out. She relocated to Tucson, and is currently serving as president of the West Campus Student Government.
In mid-October, Lopez organized a first-ever Pride Week on campus as a way to acknowledge lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered students.
“I was like, ‘I don’t understand why we’re not doing this,’” Lopez said. “We don’t tell them ‘it’s fine to be yourself here,’ so I wanted to do it because of that.”
Pride Week featured talks from openly gay students and veterans, HIV testing for National Latino AIDS Awareness Day, and a drag show by dance troupe DragStar Cabaret. Drag performances ranged from amusing and lighthearted to dramatic and laden with commentary about social issues.
Adkisson said a Gay-Straight Alliance or a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning club would benefit the college by helping people to recognize and accept their differences.
“The majority of student populations everywhere have never really had to deal with any of this before,” she said. “They don’t have anything against LGBTQ people, but they don’t know how to react to them, what those terms mean, or how those people live and that they’re just like everyone else.”
The goal of forming an organization would be to change the opinions of the entire student body, Adkisson added. “We want a whole lot of allies. We really want to get everyone.”
She and other students hope to start a West Campus Gay-Straight Alliance by spring semester. Their next goal would be to keep the group active despite a constant rotation of new students.
“It’s really getting awareness out there and getting numbers,” she said. “They’ve tried a few times, but the clubs died after a year because the people who were in them left.”
Adkisson hopes to reach enough people to provide students with a constant source of support and resources.
Interested students can contact Adkisson at email@example.com. For more information about gay-lesbian organizations, check out wingspan.org, itgetsbetterproject.com and gaytucson.com.
Listen to Miki talk about her goals.
‘No, Mom, it’s not a phase’
By APRIL GEORGE
The minutes passed slowly, the clock inexplicably ticking louder than usual, as we sat in silence in the living room. Finally, my mother asked, “Are you sure it isn’t a phase?”
This was the scene I faced in ninth grade after I told my parents I was bisexual and dating my female best friend.
Honestly, it isn’t the worst thing that could have happened. I’ve heard many horror stories from friends who were met with worse reactions when they came out. But no matter what reaction you get, negative ones hurt.
My friends were a bit more supportive, but I went to a high school that was fairly open-minded. Most people in my school were OK with it. The most harassment I got was from a boy in my drama class, who kept on me about how it was a sin. I just ignored him.
My main concern was how relatives might react. I was the first person in my family to come out, at least that I knew of. Would they be like my parents and think it was a phase? Or would they be more open-minded, like my friends?
I started with a cousin I was particularly close to, and went from there. I didn’t have any negative reactions. There are still a couple of people I haven’t told yet, but there are complicated reasons behind that.
Over the years, I’ve become more open, even to folks I don’t know very well yet. I’ve never been ashamed of my sexual orientation, only cautious and nervous. But almost six years later, my girlfriend and I are still going strong.
Being bisexual has helped me to be open-minded about other friends who have come out. And because I don’t have a preference on gender, I’ve been able to look past it to concentrate on personalities. Trust me, I’ve kicked more than a few potentials to the curb on personality.
After six years, I can answer my mother’s original question with certainty. The answer is this: No, Mom, it’s not a phase. It’s who I am, and I am proud of it.
Listen to April talk about her goals.