First, congratulations on your recent wedding. Good luck to you and stee; you deserve the best. Tell djb I would have totally taken his sublet if I, you know, lived in New York.
Like you, I often moved around as a child because of my dad’s job. I did most of my growing up on the Illinois-Iowa border, a liberal oasis compared to my current situation. Ironically, it was not until we moved to Alabama during my sophomore year of high school that I finally accepted myself as gay.
I came out at the end of my senior year and went off to college at the University of North Alabama in Florence, where I promptly reactivated the school’s gay-straight alliance in fall 2003. During the first year, we focused on increasing awareness on the campus, no small task in our Bible-belt community. This year, we are holding a statewide conference for GSAs and other groups to be held at our school this March 11.
Since the group has fewer than ten active members who are responsible for everything from fundraising to brochure-folding to the nitty-gritty details of planning an event like this, we have all invested loads of time and energy into this project. One of our least successful areas has been fundraising.
We petitioned the school’s university program council (UPC) for assistance in funding our conference. UPC is like a House of Representatives; each student group sends a rep to the weekly meeting. The reps vote for their groups on concerts and homecoming events. They also control 10% of the Student Life budget after they pay for all our annual events. Student groups can request money from them to pay for things like our conference.
We jumped through all their hoops and finally got on their agenda at the end of last month. We requested $3,265 and we can probably get by on about $1,500-$2,000. Most of this is to cover our keynote speaker’s fee and expenses.
When our proposal came up for discussion, the College Republicans attempted to impeach the credibility of our keynote speaker, author Kirk Read. His 2001 memoir How I Learned to Snap is subtitled A Small Town Coming-Out and Coming-of-Age Story, so naturally we thought he could bring something to our conference.
The Repugs got on Amazon and found out that he edited the 2004 edition of Best Gay Erotica, which we actually didn’t know. You can probably see where this is going, but I seem to remember someone saying we were bringing a porn star to campus.
They also took issue with a portion of the memoir in which he discussed his relationships with older men, because a 16-year-old having sex with someone older is only statutory rape if you are gay. After our vehement protestations and insistence that he was not coming here to talk about sex, the Baptist campus group and the fraternities tag-teamed their next point.
They didn’t feel that we had done enough fundraising on our own and that we were asking for too much money from them. We mentioned that we only had about five active members to handle everything and that our fundraising efforts were not generally well-received by certain segments of the campus. The Baptists countered that their fifteen-member fundraising team had collected $15,000 in a single semester.
UPC’s faculty advisor pointed out that the budget currently has at least $45,000 unused dollars in it, some of which will roll over to next year and some of which will simply disappear if it’s not used by May. The Baptists were unmoved.
We made a final appeal, pointing out the benefits of the conference: it’s free to our students, it will make our school look good to the visiting schools and speakers, free and open exchange of ideas — basically, the conference would be good for UNA. Then one of the fraternity members asked us to define the word “good.”
Needless to say, our request for funding was denied; if they want to couch their bigotry, intolerance and fear in smear campaigns and budget issues (as Republicans have been known to do), apparently there’s no stopping them. We are the only group to have asked for any money at all this year. They have the money sitting in an account and they’d rather lose it at the end of the year than give some of it to us.
We need this conference, Pam! We need to get these conversations started on campus, in the community, throughout the state, the country and the world. One of our state lawmakers actually wants to ban all books and plays mentioning homosexuality (http://www.al.com/printer/printer.ssf?/base/news/1101896768316400.xml). He suggested, with a straight face, that we take what we already have and “dig a big hole and dump them in and bury them.” This is what we’re working with.
I know you and your friends have worked miracles in the past, and I know this isn’t saving a library, but I was hoping you might know someone who wants to help us drag Alabama and UNA kicking and screaming into the 21st century. We’re just trying to come up with a few thousand dollars for our “gay agenda” of acceptance for everyone; hell, I’d settle for tolerance at this point.
There is a PayPal donation button on the website (http://www2.una.edu/gsa/). We will be eternally grateful for any contributions: cash, ideas, resources — anything.
Thanks in advance,
Pat Howard, president
University of North Alabama