Friday, January 30, 2009

THe Long Road to Gay Equality in Florida and Elsewhere

Just a few days ago, University of Tampa, a private university in Tampa, Florida, finally after a long, hard fought fifteen-year struggle by faculty and students alike, granted same-sex partner benefits to its employees. Read here for the full report.

The piece cited the following statistics:
"Other private universities, including Lynn, Nova Southeastern and the University of Miami, offer domestic partner benefits, as do approximately 80 percent of U.S. News & World Report’s top 50 colleges and more than half of Fortune 500 companies, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education." Many schools, both private and public, in Florida, however, still have their doors slammed shut to the idea of domestic partnership benefits.

For me, someone who lives in the Greater Tampa Bay area, it is no surprise that the struggle has been long and hard. And sometimes the struggle has been as simple, and yet as arduous, as convincing my young wards to listen to the other voices of our world.

Colleagues who teach in surrounding colleges often tell me that homophobia is still strong on campuses. I remember as a college teacher myself in this area, facing resistance from students who protested against a short story written by William Faulkner just because the author in passing mentioned that one of his character "liked men." Or take the time my students several years found a Walt Whitman poem, "Calvary Crossing the Ford," supposedly unacceptable because the poet paid homage to the bravado or masculinity of the men. The students' opposition in this case lies, I suspect, Whitman being a homosexual, rather than his elegy to these men's courage. I can also tell you the time when some students complained to the Dean about a poem by a lesbian writer who wrote passionately of the intersections, and triple oppressions, of race, gender, and sexuality. This was a poem that had to rely on profanity to make its pointed argument. And I could go on and on, but you get the point.

Today, after all what I deem to be unnecessary drama, I still am teaching that short story and poems, and many other so-called controversial writings. I still have the dream, that one day, our fears of the unknown, of the "Other," can somehow be put to rest, and that we will rise to greet the world.

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