Gay community seeks inclusion in college rape debate

By Christina Jedra

Several colleges and universities made headlines earlier this year after they were accused of mishandling student sexual assault cases. After sparking conversation about how to create safe environments for students, complaints about lax campus policies led to The Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, which goes into effect in March 2014.

While advocates of the Campus SaVE Act are celebrating their progress, some observers are exploring how the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community fits into a national conversation that focuses largely on protecting female students from male aggressors.

"We make a lot of assumptions about what sexual violence looks like," says Lauren Bernstein, assistant director for Emory University's anti-violence Respect Program. "The majority of folks are straight. The majority of perpetrators identify as men. But we don't want to make assumptions about people in this work, ever."

Kumar Ramanathan, a philosophy junior at Tufts University, says that in an effort to promote sexual assault awareness, policymakers should strive to be inclusive of all students.

"When there's a national conversation happening, you want to use that as much as possible," he says. "But if we're not conscious of how we're are using that narrative, we could be alienating a certain group of people."

Ramanathan was part of a campus movement this spring in which he and several other students wrote an open letter to the administration. The letter, co-written by students from Tufts' Action for Sexual Assault Prevention and the Consent Culture Network, addresses a lack of access to policy, resources, support and education about sexual assault. It also includes a request for a Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office that will be sensitive to LGBT students.

The administration expressed a willingness to work on these agendas.

"These aren't pipe dreams. These aren't ridiculous things to ask. For the survivors that choose to be open, there's a proposed narrative that is applied onto them, and it assumes either straightness on part of female survivors or gayness on the part of male survivors," says Ramanathan. "It can really prevent queer survivors from accessing healing. It puts the survivor on defense."

According to a 2009 applied research paper from the National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women, the LGBT community is facing a different set of circumstances than their heterosexual peers: gays and lesbians are more likely to be physically targeted than other groups affected by hate crimes. One study found that sexual harassment was a factor in the four-times-higher (than non-LGBT population) rate of suicide attempts for gay, lesbian and bisexual high school students.

While the Campus SaVE Act does mention LGBT students, it does not specifically address the group's challenges.

Sabrina Gentlewarrior, director of diversity at Bridgewater State University and the author of the National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women paper says her school needs to ensure that the information that students receive about sexual assault has these statistics in mind.

"The survivor who is LGBT has to face a dual task," she says. "They face their trauma as well as that they're living in a society that is biased against them. It's essential that our campuses are really clear that their services are sensitive to the full range of survivors that exist."

For Erica Chen, a junior at New York University, being part of an inclusive environment made all the difference.

Chen — who is in transition to become male, but asked that female pronouns be used in this story — says when she found herself in a sexually abusive relationship at school, she was grateful to have NYU's understanding of her gender identity.

"If I wasn't in a school that was so supportive, they could have ignored the situation, or they wouldn't have provided me with as much emotional support," says Chen, who studies computer science and economics. "Other schools could've been a bit more ignorant because since I'm supposedly the guy in the relationship. I would be automatically in the wrong."

 

(To read original article, visit this USA Today link)

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