The Bloomington chapter of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays kicked off its new year on Wednesday night with a panel made up of four educators and experts on related topics.
The panel included Jennifer Bass, the Head of Information Services at the Kinsey Institute; Frankie Presslaff, who runs a program called "Teen Options" at Bloomington Hospital; Kathryn Brown, who moderates panels of educators for the IU Health Center; and Carol McCord, a sexuality and marital therapist and assistant dean for women's affairs.
The evening started off with each panel member introducing themselves and addressing some of the commonly asked questions in each of their fields. Some of the topics discussed were gay marriage, use of language, family reactions, media images and the recent hype surrounding the controversial Web site of IU Business Professor Eric Rasmusen. Rasmusen hosts a Web log on the IU server which criticizes homosexuality, including a comment that gays should not be teachers.
After Brown brought up the Rasmusen Web site issue and briefly explained the situation to those in the room, questions were asked.
"What would (IU) do if it was another minority group?" Brown said.
Much of the audience, however, seemed quite pleased with the actions taken by IU-Bloomington Chancellor Sharon Brehm.
After the meeting, several of the panel members described some of the reactions to the controversy they have seen through their work from students around the campus.
"People are disgusted by it," Brown said. "I had a young woman who said it just really, really hurts … a lot of people are taking it personally."
However, Brown said most students understand that it is a First Amendment right to post opinions on Web sites. "The bottom line though, even from gays," she said, "is that it should stay because free speech trumps all this."
McCord said it is scary for students to know that the person responsible for deciding their grades might hate them for who they are.
"I don't know his motivation," McCord said, "but it seems surprising that in an education system based on facts, he's saying things that are not facts."
However, Brown pointed out that there are some positive coming out of the controversy..
"The good thing to come out of it, is non-gay students are responding in a negative way," she said.
The night had a much larger focus than one particular issue. In fact, the majority of the evening was spent praising the positive steps in attitudes toward homosexuality the panel members have noticed over the past few years.
"There is a change," Bass said. "We are in the middle of it, so we don't really notice it, but there is a change."
Toward the end of the meeting, the panel took questions from the audience that looked into some of the misconceptions about homosexuality that are still prevalent. They discussed several issues about gender roles, marriage, and how to reach people who don't understand homosexuality. One thing that was evident though, was that the panel itself was proof of all the help available for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders in the Bloomington area.
"To be gay in Bloomington is a lucky place to be," Presslaff said.
The next PFLAG informational meeting will be on Oct. 15 and will be open to the public.
-- Contact staff writer Brian Janosch at firstname.lastname@example.org.