Throughout the week, LGBT issues were addressed on campus, starting with Ted Martin, executive director of Equality Pennsylvania, visiting Slippery Rock University Tuesday to inform students about the status and movement of LGBT issues in Pennsylvania, followed by a street preacher in the quad Thursday afternoon.
Equality Pennsylvania is the state wide LGBT advocacy organization. Martin said he spends all his time based in Harrisburg working with legislatures and educating them on the LGBT community, talking to them specifically about what it’s like to be gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender.
Although to some it seems like nothing is changing towards LGBT issues, Martin said the world is shifting rapidly. According to Martin, 78 percent of Pennsylvanians are in support of passing a law that will prohibit discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Martin said the challenge comes in when legislatures don’t have the courage or ability to go forward with the movement.
“The good news is that we’re sitting here in Slippery Rock having conversations about LGBT issues,” Martin said. “That is a remarkable and enormous thing. The world is moving very fast, but the challenge is simply this.”
Martin said there are a lot of legislatures that simply don’t have the ability to move forward with LGBT issues even though they want to, and even though they know they’ll be protected.
“Pennsylvania remains the only state in the northeast where you can still fire someone for being gay,” Martin said. “You can deny them public accommodation and service at a store.”
Martin said it is important for students to go and talk to legislatures to connect with them about LGBT issues.
He said it is important to get them to see the world differently by talking to them, connecting with them and meeting with them. Martin also said among the LGBT community, legislatures often forget about the transgendered community.
“Legislatures are more willing to throw those folks under the bus,” Martin said. “They can clearly look at me and say, ‘this legislation would move if we didn’t have to worry about transgendered people. We’ll come back to them, you know we’ll come back to them.’ The bottom line is, they will never ever come back to them.”
Haley Crompton, sophomore English major and member of RockOUT, said the LGB rights have advanced very quickly in the past few years, but she also believes the transgender community is left behind.
“I think it has something to do with what [Martin] said, like transgendered people are kind of ignored in the community sometimes and it’s important to make sure that they are visible.”
Crompton also said LGBT discrimination can be stopped on the national level. She said the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would provide basic protections against workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, is in the process of trying of to get passed, but it hasn’t been passed yet.
Kristopher Hawkins, fifth year psychology major and RockOUT president, said he believes we will see more and more strides towards equality as his generation begins to become more involved with politics and legislation.
“Discrimination and inequality will diminish over time, but as Ted stated, we have a long way to go,” Hawkins said. “When people become more progressive and accepting, not tolerant, then the arc of equality leans towards Pennsylvania. When we are shrouded in that Arc, our commonwealth will be changed for good.”
Hawkins said one thing that surprised him during Martin’s presentation was learning about a larger LGBT organization, The Equality Federation, which represents the interest of individual states. Hawkins said this is important because it ensures that the lives and experiences of LGBTQIA people are represented and not lost in the national spotlight.
Hawkins advises that students ignore street preachers when they come to campus because the street preacher’s mindset cannot be changed.
Dr. Thomas Flynn, department chair and professor of communications, mentioned that there was a time in this country when homosexuality was against the law in all 50 states and the American Psychological Association considered it a mental disorder.
“To me, it is remarkable the changes that we have seen,” Flynn said. “Don’t get the idea that it’s almost over, that at one point in time this summer the Supreme Court is going to make an announcement and everything will be great. It’s because of people like Ted who have devoted their time and energy to this cause that we have seen the rapid change.”
For students who wish to come out, but are afraid of being judged, Martin advises students to come out when they feel comfortable and safe.
“I would advise people to come out when you feel comfortable, to live your truth, but do it in a way that you know you’re safe, you can gain acceptance and that you can be happy,” Martin said. “It’s not a casual thing. You don’t just come in on Monday morning or Tuesday morning and announce that you’re gay, it’s a process. Understand too that when people tell you of their status, they trust you. That’s a gift.”
Martin said there are a number of different opportunities for students to get involved with the movement. He said signing up to get into the information database on www.equalitypa.org, talking to legislatures, registering to vote, running for office and donating to the movement are some of the ways for students to get involved.
Martin said the LGBT movement is far from finished, but within time it will all be over.
“Is it over? I’ll be 50 in two weeks. By the time you’re all 50, it will be long over, but we’re not quite there yet.”