À mon avis
In my opinion
Let’s get it all out
by Gerald Walton
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Gerald Walton is an associate
professor in the faculty
of education at Lakehead
40 / www.universityaffairs.ca / April 2012
oes one’s sexual orientation matter when
working or studying at a postsecondary
institution? For most people, the answer
is “no.” For other people – and I’m one of
them – the answer is a definite “yes.” Such
responses depend on one’s assumptions about
what “sexual orientation” is in the first place.
Sexual orientation is presumed to be a pri-
vate matter only. What one does and does not do
sexually is not appropriate for conversation on
campus. However, there is another aspect of sex-
ual orientation that is appropriate on campus. I
refer to this as public sexuality identity.
To see how it works and why it matters on
campus, consider these situations:
1. Your partner or spouse drops you off at
work and you give them a quick peck on the lips
goodbye before they drive away.
2. You place a picture of your partner or
spouse on your office wall or on your desk.
3. In class, you happen to mention your wife
or girlfriend (if you are male) or your husband
or boyfriend (if you are female).
Although these situations are mundane, they
communicate to others your sexuality identity.
Whereas “sexual orientation” indicates how you
are oriented sexually, “sexuality identity” is a
public expression that announces your sexual
orientation without saying a single word about
your actual sex life. Very few people, if anyone,
will notice or care about quick pecks, mentioning
of wives and husbands, or pictures on walls or
desks, provided these expressions are in reference
to the opposite sex.
But what about when these public expressions
are in reference to the same sex?
Consider those same mundane situations for
lesbian and gay staff, colleagues and students, as
well as those who are bisexual and who happen
to be in same-sex relationships. Straight couples
can walk hand-in-hand on campus and engage in
other public displays of affection without having
to consider for even a moment the possibility
that others might find it offensive. This means
that straight people are accorded a measure of
privilege that lesbian, gay and some bisexual
people are not. By contrast, we may become the
focus of gawks and giggles when we publicly
express ourselves in the exact same ways. We
may also be told, verbally or silently, to keep our
sexuality to ourselves, to stop “flaunting it.” We
may be called nasty names or even gay-bashed.
As an out gay professor, I cannot afford to
engage in the mundane expressions of sexuality
identity without considering my emotional, psy-
chological and physical safety.
The message, then, is this: straight people on
campus have a measure of privilege that is un-
earned and widely unacknowledged. However,
when LGB people express themselves in the exact
same public ways that straight people do routinely,
we may become the target of forms of injustice
that we do not deserve. For straight people, it is a
privilege to not have to think about one’s privilege.
How can the climate of university and college
campuses be shaped so that everyone, not just the
privileged majority, can express their sexuality
identity on campus without fear of negative
repercussion? Indicating in policy that no staff
member, university instructor or student will
face discrimination on the basis of sexual orien-
tation is minimal action because it is also re-
quired by law. For some of us, more action is
required to support our right to publicly express
our sexuality identity on par with straight people.