"Larry Got Gay"
By Alexei Boulokhov '03
to St. Lawrence in August of 1999, I worried about exposing my sexuality
in a rural setting, at a school often perceived as conservative. During
Orientation I picked up a brochure listing current student organizations.
To my surprise and relief, it included a chapter of LAMBDA, the organization
for gay and lesbian students. I tried to contact the leaders, only to
find out that it had "gone out of business" a few years prior.
A few days later I started receiving messages on my answering machine.
Excited, I would press the play button, only to hear several minutes
of vulgar, homophobic slurs delivered by a group of drunk guys. Even
though I've never been secretive about who I am, I hadn't come out to
anyone yet. At first I wanted to just delete the messages, but then
I heard, "You better watch your ass walking around campus, faggot!"
I felt unsafe. I was scared. I didn't know what to do. I had to check
another brochure for University anti-discriminatory policies to make
sure sexual orientation was included in the list. Only then did I ask
my RA to listen to my voicemail.
She called our residential coordinator. The RC called Security. The
report was filed. The next day I was asked to a meeting with my advisor,
Kirk Fuoss, Student Life Dean Cissy Petty, and Security Chief Dick Matte.
All three assured me I was safe and that homophobic behavior is not
representative of the St. Lawrence community and will not be tolerated
by the administration. They also told me about a new organization, PRIDES
(People Recognizing Individuality, Diversity, and Equality of Sexualities).
The calls were traced, the callers confronted, and the harassment stopped.
I met Megan Downs '01, who was at the time president and practically
the only member of PRIDES. I asked her about the queer climate on campus
and she said it was comparable to the long winters. "The administration
might be as supportive as they can be, but we have to live among other
students," she said, "On a campus full of walking closets
and homophobes, PRIDES doesn't have a programming budget, nor is it
even listed as a Thelmo-recognized organization." Megan made sure
PRIDES was in the on-campus brochures distributed to students.
The application for Thelmo recognition and inclusion in the Student
Activities budget included a mandatory membership roster. Our case was
stalled - we couldn't submit one because of privacy issues surrounding
something as deeply personal as sexuality. "We can't give you a
potential hit list," I joked. Thelmo understood our situation and
approved PRIDES status as an organization.
Then, Becca Ostman '01 took over and tried to shake things up a little.
She organized the Fruity Film Fest in The Underground. Unexpectedly,
many people turned up, but what was more surprising, some students started
rumors that we were running gay/lesbian porn on school money! Becca
had to write an editorial in The Hill News to explain that movies with
Rupert Everett and/or Anne Heche are not porn. They might be pretty
bad movies, but they're not porn. It was surreal to have to explain
things like that, but the group was gaining visibility and reaching
out to new members.
I inherited PRIDES after Becca graduated. As a speech and theatre major
I think in terms of mass audiences. So I decided to bring a speaker
on campus. Through a generous grant from the Hewlett committee and contributions
from five different departments, we booked Leslea Newman, author of
Heather Has Two Mommies. When Leslea's agent asked how it would go,
I said, "I won't lie. I don't know."
We had made over 100 posters publicizing the visit; they were all torn
down, some with slurs written on them.
Leslea came despite her security concerns. To everyone's surprise,
almost 200 people showed up for the presentation. We felt it was a big
success that showed there was interest
on campus. The following semester we got our first budget.
In 2001-02, Turquoise Brown '05 took over the organization. Her enthusiasm
has been the best thing that has happened to PRIDES. Three years ago
I would've been amazed if there had been as many as 10 people at a PRIDES
meeting. Now she gets angry when 'only' 10 show up! The group has found
an ally in Chaplain Kathleen Buckley. The Safe Zone training series
has returned on campus.
But not everything is wonderful. Sometimes people still get harassed.
Someone painted the rainbows on Turquoise's door over in black. Another
PRIDES member had a door set on fire. Occasional name-calling is a fact
of life. Nevertheless, we have come out, come around and grown into
a strong, supportive network.
I don't think Larry got gay. I think Larry is just more aware of our
collective sexuality. In any case, I feel much safer at St. Lawrence
and I'm happy to have been a part of making a change for future students,
faculty and staff of sexual minorities.
Alexei Boulokhov spent part of last summer at the Cannes film festival
a media intern, then traveled through eastern Europe and the former
Soviet Union to work on his Tanner Fellowship project, "East of
the Rainbow: Queer Studies and Filmmaking in Eastern Europe," a
look at the gay youth scene there and, he explains, "an attempt
to explore the ways in which something as personal as sexuality is affected
by something as global as the geo-political and cultural changes that
have occurred in eastern Europe over the past two decades." A native
of Novocherkassk, Russia, he will graduate this December.