Whenever I’m asked about the queer community at Barnard or Columbia, I am never quite sure what to say. We certainly have queer people on campus who occasionally spend time together, but there’s no sense of closeness that I normally associate with community. Our campus is not a particularly dangerous place to be out and queer, so there is no pressing need to rally together. The usual micro-aggression and causal homophobia, a heteronormative professor there, do not quite warrant taking to the streets. People assume that it’s acceptable to be queer and yet many people are still too intimidated to come to an event run by one of the queer groups on campus. Our most attended events are our parties—First Friday, Gender F*ck, and Queer Prom. The strongest sense of community occurs when there is dancing and a dark corner. It takes a truly concerted effort and the appeal of delicious food to gather support for other events.
This just might be a reflection of the larger campus community, or it may be a result of living in NYC where a wider queer community is readily available. Regardless, the queer community on campus is fairly well established. We have so many queer groups, and yet, there is no cohesive community. The queer community is largely fragmented—those in Everyone Allied Against Homophobia hardly know the people in Columbia Queer Alliance. Those at Barnard rarely venture across the street, even though the Stephen Donaldson lounge remains the only designated space for queers and their allies on campus. We hardly ever work together to create a safe, supportive space on campus.
The queer community is regarded as being a scene in which people must already be comfortable with their sexuality or how they identify. The years spent figuring out our identities are supposed to be largely behind us and sealed tightly in high school yearbooks—but this isn’t always the case. Nightline has stated that the highest percentages of calls they receive are from students questioning their sexual orientation. The Furman Counseling Center often says that a number of students use their services because of questions regarding sexuality. Why don’t students look to the queer community for this kind of support? There are so many people on this campus who are going through or have gone through similar experiences, and yet hardly anyone talks to each other. There is no space for this kind of dialogue if the queer community only exists in parties or consists of the 20 or 30 students who show up to weekly meetings for their chosen queer groups. QuAM 2011 should have been a space to celebrate and strengthen our community. Yet it really only showed how much we have to work to develop the community that we need.
We have the opportunity to create a thriving queer community where students feel comfortable exploring questions regarding sexuality, or a even just a place where they meet other queer students without feeling pressured or intimidated. I understand that there are many complicated factors that play into the formation of community. However, I want to be able talk about the queer community with an image that does not involve a dimly lit room with vibrating walls and hundreds of pulsing bodies. We may not face homophobia on a daily basis. We may never face homophobia that threatens our lives. However, this does not mean we do not need a queer community. We still face challenges—each day a man wakes up loving another man is a battle; I put on armor each time I hold a girl’s hand in public because I do not know who will be watching. If I show I am involved in the queer community on a résumé, I am less likely to get the job. When I leave New York, I worry about looking “too gay.” In the end, this community and this campus is all we have—I just wish we would start realizing it.
The author is a Barnard College senior majoring in English and human rights.