Gay Students Wanting to Be Seen

Photo: Gay and Transgender Students Fight for Visibility

For many teens, the adolescent experience is defined by a desire for acceptance among peers. But for gay and lesbian students, in schools across the country, there's another issue at stake. It's the fight to be represented publicly in high school and college rites of passage: the yearbook, the big school dance, the homecoming court.

In what some gay-rights advocacy organizations consider a setback in the struggle for equality, students at the University of North Texas, in Denton, recently voted against allowing same-sex and gender-neutral couples to run for homecoming court.

"You know it's unfortunate any time schools put forth policy that restricts the expression of young people, especially when students are behind it," said Daryl Presgraves, public relations manager for the New York City-based Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. "It's extremely frustrating because you want to be able to say that every student has the same opportunity."

It all started when a male student indicated he was interested in running with another male for the court, Christopher Passafiume, student senator and member of the Gay and Lesbian Association of Denton (GLAD), told ABC News on Campus. Passafiume said he informed the student that the school's bylaws prohibited his candidacy.

Despite one's gender identification, he said, students must file with a partner of the opposite sex, with males running for king and females campaigning for queen.

So Passafiume, 20, introduced a bill in the student senate that would have changed the bylaws. But it was defeated when brought to a vote Sept. 29.

Beforehand, he said, many unhappy parents, alumni and donors called and wrote the student government association threatening to remove their children from the university and to discontinue school donations if the legislation passed.

Dozens of students protested the bill's defeat by disrupting a subsequent senate meeting Oct. 14, even threatening to remove senators who voted against the proposed legislation. Carrying rainbow flags and yelling for "equal rights," members of the local LGBT community seemed to surprise the senate members, recalled North Texas photojournalism senior Charlie McRae, 24, who documented the protest.

After the demonstrators were repeatedly told to remain silent, two police officers eventually asked them to leave.

"It was kind of a heated moment," McRae said. "They marched back downstairs and they continued for a bit in front of the building."

Majority Decides 'Fate of the Minority'

It was then that the student government association decided to have a campus-wide referendum on the matter, of which only 13.5 percent of the student body (about 4,860 students out of 36,000) participated.

"The issue should not have gone as far as to have been put up to a student vote," Passafiume said. "It is unethical to let the majority decide the fate of the minority."

Yet, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community has faced a number of other obstacles with regard to school visibility elsewhere in the nation, as evidenced by events this year.

The problem, however, is not just reserved to college campuses. With more and more students coming out at an early age, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, issues concerning visibility have surfaced during the high school years.

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