From Silence to a Conversation

It’s 2015, and there’s still people who have a problem with homosexuality.

Those who have already come out of the closet as LGBT, advocate high-school and college students struggling with their identities because of how difficult of a position it can be when it feels as if there’s no safe place to go and people to confide in.

“It’s an identity,” Dr. Rebecca Kern, Manhattan College associate professor of communications, said. “To me it’s an identity as much as race, ethnicity, class, gender, all of these things that are part of people’s identities, and it needs to be discussed. I want to try to break any myths people have and to also make people not feel uncomfortable and to try to make them understand that they can ask questions, to know that asking questions is okay.”

“Not only in just my everyday life, I’m not this overly political person about it at school because I don’t necessarily think that’s the way it needs to be,” she added. “It’s just for me, just like with everybody else, you have a partner, a spouse or whatever. It’s part of who I am.”

Kern was married to and divorced from a man before she finally decided to be herself at 27 years old, she’s now 42.

She reminisced about her time in high school when she didn’t date. It was a different time than today, society’s feelings toward homosexuality were much more hostile then.

Besides all that, thinking back she laughed and wondered what took her so long to come out. Fast-forward to today, she’s married to her wife and everyone is a big happy family. She cautioned though that it didn’t go so well at first but it got better with time.

“It’s easier to come out now, but not always because we still are dealing with family issues, religion issues, there’s still cultural issues that definitely play a role,” Kern said. “It does take time and things have changed, but I don’t think it has changed for everybody equally. It’s still complicated and scary.”

“If you’re gay and you don’t fit into those neat little boxes, which then people get very confused about,” she added. “And that is kind of part of the problem. It’s getting better. Younger generations don’t see it quite as boxed in that way. Older generations were brought up with very specific sets of beliefs and they’re trying to see beyond that. They’re learning otherwise and all they can do is you can constantly keep proving them wrong.”

What would Religion do? 

Manhattan is a Lasallian Catholic college that heavily advertises itself in those two areas of thought. On the Lasallian side, there are Christian Brothers walking around and teaching on campus. As for the Catholic part, crucifixes of Jesus Christ can be seen in most, if not all, classrooms above the chalkboard and Fr. George Hill is the chaplain.

Arguably the most well-known of the brothers at Manhattan is Br. Robert Berger. He wouldn’t definitively state if he approved or disapproved of those who are LGBT. He instead stayed neutral and said they are part of society now. And that whether it be the brothers or any religious community, it stand in solidarity with any person or persons who are just trying to find their role.

“It’s gone from no conversation or even mentioning different sexualities to now embracing a more mature conversation about it,” Berger said. “It’s gone from silence to a conversation.”

He pointed to the somewhat new and refreshing attitude Pope Francis has taken. Preaching that the Catholic Church is supposed to welcome all to become part of the conversation and reality of weaving people’s lives together. Doing this can help in the recognition of the fact that there’s so many different segments of our society, and that we shouldn’t isolate ourselves from each other.

“It’s pretty amazing that there’s a symbolic nod to, ‘Well, we are going to now deal with these issues a little bit differently than we have in the past,’ Joseph Zolobczuk, director of education and research at the YES Institute in Miami, Fla., said. “As has the whole world and all other major world religions. Things are changing.”

“When people are rejected, especially from people that they view as their religious and cultural leaders, because of one part of who they are, it can lead to self-harm and an internalized sense of rejection,” he added.

Berger continued on that we have to somehow find and give time, consideration, full-focus and availability to support anyone’s feelings in our fast-paced society where we don’t do this.

Although he isn’t the only openly LGBT student at Manhattan, Ivan Rios is at least one person who can use some of what Berger is talking about.

Rios came out in the time between his freshman and sophomore years to his friends and mother and sister last year. He remembered leading up to his decision to start telling people that he questioned if he would be looked and thought of differently. Since then he has people who support him in his life that his worry has turned into being himself.

It wasn’t always easy for Rios though. During the spring semester of his sophomore year, he returned to his dorm room to a door full of post-its with the words “fag,” “homo” and “cocksucker” written on them.

“I actually know people who are gay and use those terms. It’s awful,” Kern said. “I used to tell them I’m not friends with them anymore. I said, ‘For every time you use that word I’m going to ask for a quarter. I’m going to be very rich, very quickly.’ It’s terrible when we use words like this because we just think, ‘It doesn’t matter,’ but it does sting.”

“There’s faculty here and there that help and are amazing but overall the vicinity of the school, the general population I feel like they don’t even know half of (us),” Rios said, “and then the other half are just like whatever or they don’t even give a shit. But like everywhere there are going to always be people who accept and those who don’t.”

“I feel like there’s nothing,” he added. “I feel like I’m so lonely sometimes like there’s no one.”