OPEN ARMS UM community welcomes alternative lifestyles
In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn anti-sodomy laws and the approval of the Episcopal Church’s first openly gay bishop, the national trend toward the acceptance of gay issues is becoming apparent. This is creating a buzz internationally as well, with the July approval of marriage-like legal status for gay couples in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The trend is also prevalent throughout campus.
“It would be hard to go here and be bigoted,” said Jarrod Stokes, president of SpectrUM, the on-campus student organization whose goal is to promote awareness on gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual issues. “You would be in the minority to live off those prejudices.”
While Stokes admits that there has been the occasional derogatory comment or banner torn down, overall he feels that UM is very accepting and open. SpectrUM currently has approximately 60 members, and its membership continues to grow. There has also been an increase in straight membership this year, which is encouraged by the organization.
“UM is extremely supportive as a whole,” Dara Solomon, executive director of public relations for SpectrUM, said.
“I like Miami because people are more open with themselves and ideas,” Pooja Doshi, freshman, said. “In North Carolina, where I’m from, homosexuality is almost like a myth – people often don’t even acknowledge its presence.”
“Obviously, everywhere you go, people are going to disagree, but I think on this campus we are very accepting and embracing of gay issues,” Kylee Maywald, junior, said.
In April 2000, the University implemented a benefits plan for same-sex domestic life partners.
Under the Domestic Partner Benefits, domestic partners of eligible UM full-time faculty and staff can receive benefits already available to legally married couples. These benefits include health and dental insurance, survivor’s benefits, participation in tuition remission and access to the Wellness Center, libraries and UM sporting events.
While UM was among the first 20 percent of colleges in the nation to institute such a full range of benefits, Stanford University led the way in 1992 with the first program of this kind.
According to William J. Walsh, executive director of benefits administration, the human resources office at UM started researching the domestic partner issue when they contributed a chapter entitled “Human Resources in Higher Education” for the book College and University Business Administration.
Walsh said that what began as a simple addition to a book turned into the realization that a domestic benefits program would be a good addition to the benefits offered at UM, especially as a recruiting incentive for faculty and staff to come to UM.
Walsh said that initially there were “all sorts of dire predictions” for the program – fears that people would undermine the program or that the program would prove too costly.
“None of those bad predictions have come true,” Walsh said. Since its inception, the program has made no difference in costs.
Currently, there are 62 employees enrolled in the benefits program, making a total of 124 members. However, only 55 percent of this group is enrolled for the full range of benefits.
Additionally, since April 2000, there have been two dissolutions, analogous to “divorces” among the members.
For many, the stigma associated with homosexuality is clearly fading.
“Education and awareness is the key to acceptance,” Stokes said. “It’s not about promoting the ‘gay agenda,’ unless you consider wanting to be accepted and equal an agenda.”
Many students on campus feel that the increasing acceptance of gay couples and gay-related issues can be attributed in part to the media.
The hit TV show “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” is a perfect example of this, according to students. The “Fabulous Five” are now a staple at celebrity events. And just a few weeks ago, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Madonna created a spectacle when they kissed on stage during their performance at the MTV Video Music Awards. Comedians Gary Shandling and Brad Garrett followed that with their own on-stage kiss at the Emmy Awards on Sept. 21.
“A lot of the media attention is more for the shock value than support,” Solomon said. “But it shows that people have loosened up about the issue.”
“It’s becoming less of a niche issue,” Stokes said.
Next week, SpectrUM will be participating in National Coming Out Week from Oct. 6-11 with various guest speakers and activities. The organization encourages everyone, regardless of sexuality, to come out and take part in the events and ask any questions they may have.
“I’m just proud of the progress we have made,” Rayna Carter, member of SpectrUM, said. “And I hope it continues.”
For more information about Coming Out Week, contact Spectrum at 305-284-5520 or visit UC room 244, Monday through Friday from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Megha Garg can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.