I originally posted this to Vermont’s Green Mountain Daily. I thought it might be relevant to post it here, with some additional comments in light of the recent discussions on ENDA. I’ll be adding the additional comments at the end:
It’s funny; in Southeastern Vermont, I can’t think of a single time I had a problem connected with my sexual orientation. It’s difficult to tell, however. It’s not like I’ll know if I got turned down from a job for being queer vs. some other factor. And I’m sure that I’ve had students who have a problem with it. But, still… it’s never really been a problem for me in any way I can perceive. And yet, clearly, it’s still a fairly big problem in Vermont, in ways that honestly surprise me. Maybe it’s more common in different areas, or maybe it’s just something that I see as so completely ridiculous to hassle someone about that it just goes right over my head these days.
It’s not like I don’t know what the dehumanization is like. I remember college, and being harassed almost daily, with people coming by at all hours of the night to leave nasty notes on my door and sometimes just to bang on my door so I couldn’t get any sleep, and I remember the administration completely ignoring it at the time, hoping it, and probably I, would just go away. I remember one time being harassed by a guy on the street and being scared for my life because I wasn’t sure where I could go to get away from him fast enough. I remember having been threatened by another student once and absolutely nothing happening to stop it, even though the administration said they’d back me up if I filed a complaint. But these things happened a long time ago, in another place and another time.
I guess I just don’t feel that way living here. In Vermont, I feel comfortable that I won’t get harassed or hassled. While I’m sure homophobia exists here, it’s not my experience that it’s a problem. The Burlington Free Press, however, reports on some fairly nasty stuff:
Rachel Rosenberg knows what it’s like to feel dehumanized.
The transgender-identified University of Vermont student, who prefers male pronouns but still uses his birth name, says he has been barked at while walking with his partner on campus and has endured so many instances of sexually explicit harassment, it’s hard for him to keep track of it anymore.
Rosenberg, 20, came to Vermont from New York because of UVM’s reputation of being an inclusive place for sexual minorities. But after just a couple of months on campus, Rosenberg realized that the student body and the Burlington community do not necessarily subscribe to the same ideas of tolerance and inclusion that UVM as an institution does.
What Rosenberg learned about the university community was what many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Vermonters have known about the state for a long time. While Vermont as an institution seeks to promote tolerance and acceptance through policies such as civil unions and same-sex adoption, the community as a whole has a long way to go toward fostering an environment that is safe and welcoming for LGBT Vermonters.
On the books, Vermont does look really good. But having something on the books is not the same as enforcing it, and having a school which has good principles is not the same as having good communication about those principles.
Allowing kids to get away with harassing lgbt kids isn’t really acceptable and I think UVM needs to step up to the plate here and see what they can do to support these kids who are getting harassed and to curtail the harassment that does exist.
To tie this into current events on a national level: I think it’s important to keep in mind how tenuous feeling safe can be. Vermont’s got some great laws on the books, but those laws only get you so far. If we make it clear to the powers that be that we can easily be divided up while scrambling for the morsels that come with national non-discrimination laws, we’re completely screwed. Non-discrimination laws are great but they need enforcement and they need community support in order to have any real meaning. Being willing to throw some of us under the bus for the sake of a victory here just isn’t worth it.