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Today's word on journalism

January 13, 2009

Breakneck:

"I get the feeling that the 24-hour news networks are like the bus in the movie 'Speed.' If they stop talking for a second, they think they'll blow up."

--Jon Stewart, The Daily Show, 2008 (Thanks to alert WORDster Ross Martin)

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Gay and lesbian students struggle for acceptance

By Satenik Sargysan

December 5, 2008 | Despite the fact that society's attitudes towards homosexuals have become more accepting in recent years, sexual prejudice remains widespread in the United States.

Kolby Kent Nelson, a former USU student and a current graduate student at Penn State University, is openly gay. When he came out, his older sister told him that if he were to choose "that lifestyle," she did not want her son to know he existed.

Bailey Bell, a USU psychology major, had to withdraw from her former university when her roommates told the university headquarters she was lesbian.

USU business student Moudi Sbeity's mother sent him to a psychologist "to cure him from his illness" as soon as she found out that her son was homosexual.

For Earnest Cooper, the president of L.I.F.E. Liaison, admitting that he was gay turned into excommunication from his church.

Maure Smith was asked not to be around her sisters when she told her parents she was lesbian.

The results of a survey of 191 employees by National Survey of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Physicians reveals that 27 percent would refuse to hire and 26 percent would refuse to promote a person they perceived to be lesbian, gay or bisexual. The fear of being judged based on sexual preference makes it hard for homosexuals to "come out."

"It's never easy being gay," says Kolby. "You never know how people are going to react around you for who you are. It's painful at times to see people draw away in fear."

Kolby recalls his internal struggle when he realized he was gay. For four years, he and his mother had the same goal of "trying to make him straight."

"The hardest part of coming out wasn't that I had to come out to my family," he says. "It was that I had to come out to myself. I had to admit to myself that I was gay."

Moudi, on the other hand, points out the struggles of his mother as the most challenging part of coming out.

"She kept on crying for two months every single day, blaming herself for what I've become and the fact that I grew up without a dad," he says. "She started hating life because her son was gay."

When Smith was told that she couldn't hang around her sister much, her concept of family collapsed.

"It almost killed me," she says. "Being raised LDS, I was taught that families are forever."

Smith is now the program coordinator of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Association at USU. The organization helps students "to come out" or overcome the issues that GLBT youth experience. She underlines that homophobia (defined as "irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against homosexuality or homosexuals" in Merriam-Webster dictionary) has not faded with time. Instead, she says, the term has evolved to mean "discrimination and harassment, fear and hatred."

"Some of the stories I hear from my GLBT youth and co-workers are physically violent," she says. "One of the students that we are working with now, has been attacked by baseball bats twice."

Logan community is not a gay-friendly place, Cooper says.

"I had people who told their kids who I work with not to be around me because they would get raped by me," he says.

On the other hand, despite the fact that "cat-calls and dirty looks " have always been prevalent on campus, USU students have mostly been tolerant of gay people.

Things changed drastically with the last election and Prop 8 when homophobia started showing its "ugly head. "

"The biggest challenge we have faced so far has been Prop 8, " says Smith. It's hard for everyone. It makes people say hateful things to each other."

Moudi says that passing Prop 8 made him feel discriminated on a national level.

"We don't want to get married to show people that we can. We want to get married because we love each other and we want an institution to support us so we can make it real," Moudi says. "If our political and social institutions do not see us as real couples, how can we see us as real? If you don't believe in God, how can God be real?"

Many people received numerous hate emails before the election. In one of the emails Cooper was told that he would be prohibited to going to any weddings because he supported gay marriage.

LDS church's contributed banning gay marriages in California. Kolby calls LDS church's actions regarding Prop 8 "one more slap in the face to years of not answering his questions; years of not giving the proper guidance to their members who have same-sex attraction."

Prop 8 has been an incentive for people to express their feelings about homosexuality more openly.

Jen Stevenson is a Journalism student at USU. She doesn't have any close gay friends. She says that she doesn't agree with "homosexual lifestyle" but she wouldn't treat somebody differently just because they were gay.

Maure strongly disagrees with the term "homosexual lifestyle."

"I don't like the word 'homosexual' because it emphasized sex," she says. "It's unfortunate because that is not all I am about. There is not one way to be gay. Just like there is not only one way of being heterosexual. Saying 'gay lifestyle' implies that every gay person lives the same way. That can't possibly be right."

Lia Inoa is Moudi's friend. She doesn't recall when she learnt that Moudi was gay. In her words, it never mattered to her what Moudi's sexual preference was. She characterized Moudi as "a passionate and a very honest person, one who can talk about any topic and stand out for what he believes in."

"When people find out that someone is gay, they usually tend to define personality and don't allow themselves to look beyond that," she says. "All other traits of the person are framed under the 'gay tag.' Instead of seeing the friend or the student, it becomes the gay friend or the gay student.

Moudi finds it offensive that when most people hear the term "gay, " they think about sex.

"They don't think about emotions or people's personal characteristics," Moudi says. "It has come to be a sexual term. It does refer to a person's sexual preference but it shouldn't limit people's perception of gays."

In areas with one dominant religion, the majority of people holds a commonly accepted opinion about controversial issues, particularly about gay rights.

Codi Richardson is an LDS student at Lyon College in Arkansas.

"I don't approve of the lifestyle," she says. "But all the homosexuals I've known are wonderful people so I like the people and not their choices."

In Maure's words, saying that they hate the sin, not the sinner, people discount a large part of who she is.

"I am not talking about whether I choose to be sexually active or not. I am talking about who I choose to love and how I choose to create my life."

Even though the American Psychiatric Association dropped homosexuality as a psychiatric diagnosis in 1973, some people still claim homosexuality a psychological disorder or a 'temptation.'

USU Journalism student Shannon Ballard knew a couple of people in high school who identified themselves as homosexual. She has always thought of gay love as a temptation.

"I don't think that gay love is natural love," she says. "Having gay feelings is a temptation that people must overcome just like overcoming the temptations to cheat, steal, or look at porn. It's a trial that many people have to deal with but should strive to overcome."

Because of their backgrounds and religious beliefs many people choose not to come out. GLBTA encourages students to do what they feel is right. The stories of gays in heterosexual marriages remain untold.

"I am personally in complete favor of anyone who follows what they believe," says Kolby. "And what he and I believe is right and wrong may be different, but that's what is so great about this life. We all get to make our own decisions, and in turn, we all pay our own consequences."

Fortunately, after long years of difficult conversations families of Kolby, Moudi, Maure, Bailey and Cooper were able to accept them the way they are: gay and lesbian.

Moudi's last relationship failed because his former partner was LDS. With hatred surrounding him as a gay, he chose not to come out.

"We still love each other," he says. "Why should we be stripped of our love just because people don't accept us as gays?"

Since July 1999, the Army has regulated 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy, justifying that "the presence of individuals in the armed forces who engage in homosexual acts creates an unacceptable risk to unit cohesion and standards of morale, good order and discipline.' A feeling that brings joy to people was censored.

"People say God hates fags. That breaks my heart because I believe in God," says Moudi. "I pray to him every night. What makes me so different from heterosexuals? I have a heart. I eat, I sleep. I shower. And I love, just like them. The only difference is the person I love happens to be a man."

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