As an openly queer student attending Gonzaga, I must admit that, though the university has allowed me to better understand my sexuality (through certain classes, relationships and other resources which the school has enabled), my mostly positive experience is not a common one.
Navigating the gay dating world on a Jesuit campus like our own has revealed that there is a rather large underground community of students who identify as LGBTQ+ but are unwilling to come out for various reasons. This is expected on any campus to some extent, I suppose, but I think it’s important to explore why the closeted community at Gonzaga thrives.
What I mean is, while coming-out statistics continue to rise for a majority of the country, this is not the case for our community, and I think it’s important to recognize where this disconnect comes from.
Personally, I believe it stems from a lack of authentic allyship in our community and a lack of institutional inclusion.
At GU, we are quick to claim to be allies, but rarely do we follow through (this is just as true for students of color as it is for the LGBTQ+ community). Events hosted by the LGBTQ+ Lincoln Resource Center rarely get attended by anybody outside of the queer student body, and this rings especially true for events that focus on solidarity with or education about the trans community. This absence of allyship, this refusal to show up, translates into a rather pervasive closet on our campus.
This lack of allyship is not just present in students, but many professors and faculty members aren’t showing up for some of their students either. Some do (and kudos to them), but many don’t. They’re not showing up to events, and they’re often not showing up in their classrooms.
I’ve been lucky enough, as an English major and women’s and gender studies minor, to take classes that study LGBTQ+ history, explore queer theory and read texts from non heterosexual/cis authors, but for a majority of our campus’ population, those writers are ignored and students are hardly exposed to these important topics. And sure, students could opt to take these classes or educate themselves, but often they don’t (either because they don’t have time or simply don’t care enough).
This lack of support from university representatives converts into a lack of institutional support too. The largest evidence of this lies in the process through which first-year students receive housing assignments; there is no part of the application or selection process that ensures that a queer student or non cisgendered student will not end up with a heterosexist or transphobic roommate (this has happened several times within the last few years, by the way).
Many buildings also lack gender-neutral bathrooms. There are groups working on changing these things, but perhaps we should question why the process to bring these changes is so slow.
Whatever the reason, these phenomena manifest themselves into an incredibly heteronormative atmosphere that results in a devaluation of queer student experience and perspective inside and outside of the classroom. Because of these factors (and others), GU’s closet is larger than one might think.
In fact, when I was complaining to my therapist about these very things, about how the GU closet was larger than it might seem on the surface, she responded, “Oh trust me, I know.”
There is a rather large population of students on this campus who feel they cannot come out, who fear expressing themselves authentically, and I can ensure you that it takes an emotional, cultural, spiritual, mental and even physical toll on the entire GU community.
Christopher Barker is a senior studying English and women’s and gender studies.