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Out On Campus: University of Kansas

Out On Campus: University of Kansas

Welcome to the debut of SheWired's exclusive series Out on Campus. We are proud to premiere our series with a submission from Sara Thompson at the University of Kansas. Thompson writes, 'There are plenty of other stories about sneaking girl-dates into my sorority house, my phase of fulfilling the “slutty bisexual” stereotype, coming out to all my friends and family, and many more...' 

Welcome to the debut of SheWired's exclusive series 'Out on Campus,' brought to you by SheWired Associate Shannon Connolly and Senior Editor Tracy E. Gilchrist.  We are busy combing college campuses across the nation -- or even around the world -- to bring readers a varied perspective on coming out or being out at college.

Shannon and I are proud to premiere our series with a submission from Sara Thompson at the University of Kansas. Enjoy, and if you'd like to be a part of our series please email me at [email protected].


For many, the college years are a time in a person's life when they become what they will be for the rest of it.  Lots of changes are par for the course, and my undergraduate experience has been no exception.  All it takes to confirm this is a glance at my refrigerator, covered with my ridiculous senior pictures, taken almost four years ago.  These photos are forever a great source of jaw-dropping entertainment--sometimes even I laugh to think about how this starkly different girl became the person I am this very second.

It all began on move-in day with a silent mouthing of “SHE’S HOT!” from my younger brother toward my new roommate.  I very quietly agreed with him. She and I were fast friends and then best friends and I was hopelessly in love to boot.  It’s not so tragic really. Eventually I told her I was in love, for my own peace of mind, and we’re still friends. Since then, I’ve been finding out just what it’s like to be out on campus. There are plenty of other stories about sneaking girl-dates into my sorority house, my phase of fulfilling the “slutty bisexual” stereotype, coming out to all my friends and family, and many more, but it’s the place I’ve called home for the last few years and the campus on which most of this life has taken place that has made them all possible.

Kansas is not a hot queer destination these days, and understandably so. With a constitutional amendment defining marriage between one man and one woman and a strong conservative presence, this red state leaves much to be desired by the queer community. I am fortunate that the school I chose to attend before I even came out to myself, the University of Kansas, is commonly dubbed “GayU.

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Until I became involved in the LGBTQ community however, I never realized the strong queer presence on campus. For starters, one of the oldest student organizations on campus is the LGBTQ student group, Queers & Allies. Q&A is one of the more present and active organizations on campus and has earned a good deal of respect from campus administration and student government. Their more-than-a-decade long tradition of Pride Week on campus, which I’ve been coordinating for the last two years, consists of a variety of speakers, performers, and discussion panels, a dance, a parade, and a lunch-time drag show called Brown Bag Drag that is always well attended.

And despite protests from a locally infamous "church" and a surprisingly small amount of vandalism, every year queer students express their feelings of increased acceptance on campus. This may be why many Kansas-born gay people flock to Lawrence, Kan, the literal blue dot in the sea of red on voting maps. Lawrence residents were the only Kansans to vote down the marriage amendment and have since instituted a domestic partnership registry that offers some formal recognition for queer and other unmarried couples.

My experiences with being out on campus have been varied but positive overall. Clashing, at times, like a brown belt on a pair of black slacks, are the attitudes of acceptance and discrimination of the gay community in Greek life on campus. Fraternities and sororities are a major part of campus life and some chapters have different takes on gay “brothers” and “sisters” and LGBTQ people in general. For me, the prospect of the toxic gossip that is a side effect of 80 women living together, on top of the fear of being outed, was terrifying. Luckily, I had unknowingly pledged a pretty accepting house and when everyone found out, which didn’t take long, I brought my girlfriend to our semi-formal dance. We got a few confused/amazed stares from some of the women’s dates but the dance went off without a hitch. Mostly, my sisters were happy that I finally felt comfortable enough to bring a date --a real one that is.

Everyone was also very understanding when I couldn’t pay my chapter because of financial trouble. After coming out to my family, I was officially disowned and didn’t have the money to stay in the sorority. The members of the executive board worked out a payment plan with me and were supportive in other ways as well, lightening an already heavy burden.

Not all of my experiences being gay in the Greek system were positive, however. A year ago I was interviewed for an article in a local publication about being gay and Greek. When the journalist asked if he could publish the name of my chapter in the story, I had to decline. My chapter advisor -- who is an older alumnus -- wouldn’t give me permission to publicize which chapter I belonged to. Q&A has also had some trouble with harassment and feigned interest from fraternity “men” at student events where we were publicizing.

Aside from my experiences with Greek life, which most queer people avoid like the plague, the climate of acceptance that I’ve felt on campus outside that community is something to which a lot of queer people can relate. A plethora of gay professors and staff, an active LGBT resources center, and an anti-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation are all qualities that people might look for in a gay friendly university, but I don’t think that those “on paper” statistics are actually telling of the environment for being out on campus. The liberal oasis that is Lawrence has a good amount of influence on the types of students that are attracted to the college. The views of the student body are far less socially conservative that their political counterparts in most of Kansas. This fact has made feel comfortable being one of the faces of our LGBT group and has also allowed me to be open about my sexuality with little worry about discrimination. Others on campuses around Kansas are not so lucky.

I’ve recently embarked on another very gay on-campus adventure that is further testing my comfort level with being out. Along with my best friend, a gay man, I am an on-air DJ for a very sassy gay talk radio show --The Dick an’ Dyke Show, I’ve gotten the opportunity to witness wide acceptance and enjoyment of gay culture from a variety of people who make up the station’s listener base. Just barely into the semester I’m already astonished at the even further acceptance that I feel on campus. I guess you could say I’m proud to be a “Gay-hawk."

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