Like many students attending the University of West Florida, I grew up in the southeastern region of the United States, or what many local admirers and foreign admonishers simply refer as “the South.”
Specifically, I was born in Texas, raised in Tennessee and fully formed in the panhandle of Florida. All of these locations possess obvious geographical differences while also possessing some cultural similarities.
I have lived in Pensacola for nearly 16 years and in that time, I have learned a lot about how we live, work and play together as human beings.
As a child who grew up in “the South,” specifically in Pensacola, things culturally leaned towards the track of the “social conservative” with an emphasis on divisive, abstinence-based educational endeavors regarding things like pre-marital sex, homosexuality and rooting for a college football team other than the “Crimson Tide” of Alabama.
My first experience with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community occurred in the late 1990s. I was still a child at this time (some may believe I am one now) when my family would regularly attend events in downtown Pensacola such as hockey games and Hootie and the Blowfish concerts.
Every time we made the drive down Garden Street towards the downtown area, we’d pass by a little shop on the right side of the street. In the large window at the face of the building hung a flag featuring all the colors one can find in a typical rainbow. I found the image to be a vibrant, encouraging and inviting symbol of fun and enjoyment.
I asked my mother if we could go inside and check it out. She refused to let me see what was happening in this establishment because that specific store was a “gay” store.
As a child, I thought, “What’s wrong with being a ‘gay’ store?”
Now, in my advanced age compared to that moment, I ask, “What’s wrong with being ‘gay?’”
Our news feeds are congested with stories, hyperlinks and video clips discussing a wide range of LGBT issues such as marriage equality and I can’t help but inquire about the reason for such vehement disagreement from the socially conservative sect regarding the development and implementation of equal rights for the LGBT community.
College campuses tend to possess more progressive ideologies regarding the LGBT community. However, recent events such as the student senate of Texas A&M University passing a “Religious Funding Exemption Bill” that would have allowed students to opt out of contributing funds to the campus’s LGBT resource center prove that even the seemingly “progressive” college campus can feature demographic restriction based on ideological principles.
I am sure we can agree that college is not an easy process. There are so many difficult aspects of the college experience that can prove to be difficult for students. Our campuses need services and locations where students can receive support and guidance. The GLBT center at Texas A&M serves this purpose.
The UWF campus features a student organization called the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA). I recently attended a GSA meeting and I’ve never been in a more vibrant, encouraging and inviting environment on this campus.
The college environment should reflect the inclusiveness of an organization such as GSA. If we want college to universally improve for each and every student, we must quit looking for reasons to divide ourselves and begin developing and implementing solutions that will bring us together.