Chapman alumna Cortney Johnson spent her four years in college fighting for equal rights for the LGBT community as the Queer-Straight Alliance (QSA) president, a group that consisted of only ten people in 2008. She described the gay dating scene at Chapman as “the most incestual, difficult thing.” Knowing very few openly gay students at the time, Johnson did not come out as lesbian until three months after she graduated from Chapman in 2010.
“I didn’t want to be in the spotlight,” she said. “I didn’t want people to think I was faking it for attention.”
While many people believe there is still progress to be made in the LGBT community, older generations couldn’t imagine advocating for rights like gender inclusive bathrooms, gender-neutral sports teams and providing menstrual products in men’s bathrooms.
Although Johnson hadn’t yet come out in college it didn’t stop her from hosting mock queer weddings on campus, working with QSA, tabling in the piazza to encourage students to vote and protesting the passing of Proposition 8 which made same-sex marriage illegal.
“I was shocked, devastated,” Johnson said. “Queer students were disappointed and Chapman had no official response to the prop.”
All of the houses around Chapman’s campus were littered with Prop. 8 signs, she said. By the time Johnson graduated, she said QSA had doubled in size.
“People were coming out of the woodwork more,” she said. “Gender is something people feel more freely about now.”
Erin Pullin, the Director of Diversity and Inclusion, was one of Johnson’s biggest support systems at Chapman.
California as a whole has taken lengthy strides in regards to LGBT rights in the last 15 years. Gay marriage was permanently legalized in on June 26 2013, two years earlier than the federal legalization in 2015. Seventy percent of millennials (born 1981 to 1996) favor same-sex marriage compared to 59% of Generation Xers (1965 to 1980), 45% of baby boomers (1946 to 1964) and 39% of the Silent Generation (1928 to 1945), according to a 2015 survey from Pew Research Center. As gay acceptance becomes more prominent with time, some millennials find it easier to come out than previous generations. The average coming-out age in 1991 was 25 years old, compared to 16 years old in 2010, according to a study done by Science Daily.
Jennifer Reed, an associate professor in women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Cal State Long Beach, came out in 1984 when she was 20.
“Shame was such a part of the identity in the 1970s and 1980s,” she said. “I thought I had a cancer diagnosis, it was horrible.”
Reed is now the department chair of the women’s, gender and sexuality studies and the winner of the 2017 Carl Bode Award for Outstanding Article published in the Journal of American Culture in 2016 for her article “Queering Eleanor Roosevelt.”
“Now we have role models and an openness about it,” Reed said. “Younger people come out with less trouble. It’s not true everywhere; we still have a lot of shame and sexuality, but some of the shame is lifted.”
Christine Hiller-Claridge, a 42-year-old high school teacher, didn’t come out as gay until she was dating her college girlfriend for almost a year.
“People just weren’t coming out in ninth grade,” she said. “I applaud that people have the guts to do that and feel like it’s no big deal because it took me a really long time.”
Claridge is now married with two children, she carried their son and her wife carried their daughter who are blood related by the same sperm donor. She’s a mentor who helps students struggling with their sexual orientation and identity, offering support and advice.
“Young students are more open about their sexual identities than they were when I was their age,” she said.
Chapman has made strides to further enhance the experience of the LGBT community and diminish this shame through organizations like the Diversity Project, Cross Cultural Center, and LGBT mentors who are typically baby boomers or Gen Xers.
The Diversity Project created a LGBTQIA+ Staff & Faculty Forum in Fall 2017 to support LGBT communities on campus with events and activities aimed at building a strong community filled with support.
Staff and faculty, like assistant Dodge professor Sally Rubin, mentor LGBT students as part of outreach programs that promote inclusive, personalized education.
Junior Cody Straton, an English major, came out when he was 15 years old.
“I knew I was gay when I was young,” he said. “I’ve never tried to hide it, I can’t it’s who I am.”
There’s still a lot of progress that needs to happen, Straton said. But he feels like with his strong support system, built of accepting family members and friends, he doesn’t feel ostracized. Despite a lot of positive progress in regards to the LGBT community in the past few years, he feels like society is taking steps backward since Trump has been in office, with possible policies floating around, like not including transgender people on the U.S. census.
Kimberlee Distler, a junior digital arts major, feared disapproval from her father as a child.
Growing up as Christopher, she struggled living with a conservative father in Texas. In high school, Kimberlee came out as a gay male which her father looked down upon and didn’t understand. Throughout her adolescence, Distler used substances to cope with her depression that arose from a lack of belonging and true identity.
“For the most part people are supportive,” she said. “But I’ve also had to deal with negative relationships.”
Jessica Lynn, a transgender activist, struggled with her sexual identity growing up and coped with obsessing over hobbies like painting and collecting things to keep her mind off wanting to be a woman in her teenage years. Born in 1965, Lynn is a part of Generation X and was raised by baby boomers when being transgender wasn’t talked about and few people were educated about it.
She speaks around the world to promote for gender nonconforming communities and spoke at Chapman Oct. 17. At three years old, with the birth name Jeffrey Butterworth, she knew she wanted to be a girl. She tried praying because she thought if she did it enough God would give her a girls body. When that didn’t work, she became obsessed with hobbies to get her mind off wanting to be a girl: she collected stamps, bugs and caterpillars; painted; played soccer; and drank excessively.
“Older generations obsessed with different things to ‘cure’ us,” she said. “So that’s what I did, I became a damn good soccer player.”
At 15 years old, Lynn was playing on the top two under-18 soccer teams in the nation, receiving interest from the 1984 Olympic Committee who wanted her to play on their team that year.
Growing up, Lynn didn’t know what it meant to be transgender. In 1983 the only word she knew was transvestite, and by age 20 she still had never heard the word transgender. She went to the library and read books to try to understand what was going on, but at that time period they had no literature on transgender people. When Lynn was four her parents took her to see Dr. John Money, a psychologist and sexologist who was believed to be the best transgender doctor in the nation at the time. He advised her parents to raise her as a boy, following the nature vs. nurture theory, that a child grows up to be who they are raised as regardless of their biological sex.
As Americans’ views on gender shift, laws are shifting with them. While some people identify as either male or female, regardless of biological makeup, others are now not claiming an identity. It’s called X, a non-binary, gender-neutral option. State jurisdictions are passing laws that allow a gender-neutral option on birth certificates and some are adding X to their driver’s licenses, according to an article published by The New York Times.
California will offer nonbinary driver’s licenses starting next year.
While campus climate has positively progressed towards accepting the LGBT community, Chapman and the United States still have improvements to make.
Generational Perceptions of Campus Climate Among LGBT Undergraduates, an article written by Jason Garvey in the Journal of College Student Development, illustrated that the progress of LGBT students on college campuses over the previous 70 year proves to be slow but steady since 1944, based of a national LGBT alumni survey. Garvey, an assistant professor of higher education and student affairs at the University of Vermont, studied campus climate that included LGBT support, co-curricular involvement, geographical location and majors. The progress hiccups during years that experience significant historical events like war, LGBT movements, and federal policies.
“The gradual acceptance and affirmation of LGBT people in mainstream society are inextricably linked to increasingly progressive social policies for LGBT people and more positive perceptions of campus climate in higher education,” said Garvey.
The first time the average standardized scores for campus climate perception were positive was in 1998, the era millenials were being born and raised in. The improvement was sparked soon after Matthew Shepard died from being beaten and tortured in an anti-gay assault which drew attention nationwide to homophobia and LGBT violence.
In July, the Trump administration reversed a Clinton-era policy which granted visas to partners of same-sex U.S. and foreign diplomats. Now, partners must be legally married which will create problems for partners living in foreign countries that don’t allow gay marriage.
At the end of October, a new definition of transgender was proposed which would reduce protection for transgender people, especially students, according to a New York Times report. The federal government is considering excluding transgender people from Title IX, the law that was created to ban sex discrimination. This would diminish legal protection in lawsuits regarding bullying, use of bathrooms, and other rights of students.