GEM SHEPS: Queerly Beloved

_DSC4416After a weekend of vacationing in my terrible hometown, I’ve been looking forward to being back on our nice, progressive campus.

My hometown of Woodland Park isn’t diverse—I knew about three out queer kids in high school out of a total of 700, and pretty much everyone there is white. Most people, including myself, were afraid to come out because most of the population is devoutly Christian and extremely discriminatory.

So, when I came back to our big-city liberal community, I wasn’t expecting to be confronted with a man spouting his homophobia outside of the Tivoli in the name of religious-sanctioned hatred.

The bigot—a person intolerant of different lifestyles and opinions—was shouting about how being gay was against his culture, was disgusting, was wrong, and about every other insult in the book.

This homophobe apparently frequents other campuses too, including Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, according to a friend of mine who used to attend the school. We’re all given the right to free speech, but when does it cross the line into a hate crime?

When people are allowed to spew their hateful opinions at everyone they see, queer people get hurt—either directly, or as a result of that exposure. Speeches like that can put ideas into heads of people that might commit physical hate crimes.

Allowing speech like this on our campus under the pretense of protecting “free speech” can traumatize, abuse, and even kill queer people.

I guess when I graduated last year I expected to be moving to a city where prejudice doesn’t exist. Compared to Woodland Park, anything would be better. I was overwhelmed by even the notion of being somewhere new and sparkling, so it makes sense that, at the time, I was blind to the problems around me. Still, a little bit of hope for that prejudice-free community lives inside me. Maybe one day I’ll get to see it with my own eyes.

Gem Sheps
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