LGBTQ students’ journey from discrimination to acceptance

Tyler Manning

Zarya Maitao, mass communication sophomore, Jessie Tidwell, education sophomore and Zaquera Wallace, biology junior, flashes color and march in the Resist Hate Rally held in Sunwatcher Plaza on Sept. 1. Photo by Marissa Daley

They are just like everyone else on campus. They have the same likes, dislikes and struggles. They eat in the same cafeteria, walk in the same halls and attend the same classes. Though they are just like any other student on campus, they have had a history of discrimination here.

Those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender have a long history of facing discrimination and violence. In 2011, the Gay-Straight Alliance was formed to educate students and alleviate misconceptions about members of the LGBT community, preceding campus stories

In 2013, an openly gay man on campus was refused the right to donate blood because of his sexual orientation.

In 2015, other openly gay students on campus were ridiculed by multiple students on an anonymous social media app for their sexual orientations along with the caption, “See a fag, post a fag.”

In 2016, an openly gay athlete came to MSU to speak on the challenges he has faced because of his identity and the organization People Respecting Identity Diversity for Everyone had made itself more visible with peaceful protesting.

Throughout the past six years, there has been a tremendous amount of growth toward bettering the treatment of LGBT, or lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members on campus. All of these events have led to the campus climate now, where new students that are part of the LGBT community have yet to see discrimination against them or their friends on the basis of their identity and sexual orientation.

That familar background connected with the community is all too familiar with Morgan Sinclair, sociology junior and president of campus PRIDE. She did not grow up in an LGBT accepting home. It was not until this past summer that she came out to her family. Since coming out, she has had her fair share of judgment from members of her family.

“My grandma has not been the nicest person ever about it. For instance, she has told me that I am attacking her in her own home,” Sinclair said.

Despite seeing discrimination in her home, Sinclair said she has yet to see that present on campus.

“Surprisingly, considering how unaccepting a lot of people in Wichita Falls are about gay people, I have not seen anyone directly persecuted,” Sinclair said. “MSU does the best job it can. There are a lot of great faculty and staff that are allies and supportive. That is the extent of what they can do.”

Though she does not feel discrimination on campus, she has seen discrimination off campus in Wichita Falls.

“I had my car decorated pretty gay for homecoming last year. I was off campus and when I came back, I had tobacco spit all over my car,” Sinclair said. “It was disgusting to say the least.”

While she said the campus community is pretty accepting, Sinclair does have fears for what could happen on this campus. She referenced an event at Cleveland State University in which a series of fliers were spread around campus telling members of the LGBTQ+ community to commit suicide and hopes something similar does not happen on this campus.

“I don’t want that to happen on this campus because I fear that it could,” Sinclair said. “It is a trigger point for a lot of people.”

According to Zaquera Wallace, biology pre-vet junior, her religious background doesn’t accept homosexuality and affected her coming out story, and her mother was a big part of that for her.

“I grew up in a very religious background, and my mom is not okay with my sexuality,” Wallace said. “She loves me, just not that part of me. I came out Sept. 21 in 2013. I wrote her a letter. I was grounded for two months.”

She shares the same sentiment that Sinclair does in how members are treated here on campus, and she has also felt some discomfort when expressing her sexuality off campus.

“I feel like MSU does not tolerate stuff like that. I am sure there are people who do not accept that; however, that is on them. They don’t express it — which is good,” Wallace said. “I am openly gay with my girlfriend, who also goes here, and we go out. I have gotten looks, of course, but I haven’t had people talk to me or scream at me or anything like that. I know people are thinking and saying it to themselves, but they are not going out and bashing me for it.”

Although there is a level of tolerance, Wallace feels there is room to grow in increasing the amount of LGBT representation in the community.

“The school and Wichita Falls could do a lot better with awareness,” Wallace said. “People aren’t aware of who we are on campus. There is not much for members around Wichita Falls where we could go to or support areas. If there are, they are not advertised well and the same for on campus.”

According to Jessie Tidwell, science education sophomore, his parents were in support of him when he came out four years ago, though his paternal grandparents were not. Tidwell said the parts of his family that are not accepting of his sexuality have told him repeatedly that he is “going to hell” for his identity.

Though having not seen or experienced direct discrimination, Tidwell said he has felt silent judgement from others on campus.

“No one has said anything, but they do give looks,” Tidwell said. “People do give looks and there are people who passive aggressively tear down PRIDE signs, but that is about it.”

As for whether he has seen persecution off campus, Tidwell references a column posted on the Times Record News calling homosexuals “immoral” and “deviant.” Other than that, he has not seen any other form of persecution.

The campus and the town can make more effort to better educate people about LGBTQ+ members, Tidwell said, and he believes there have been increased safe zone training and educational lectures to inform the community.

“There is always room for improvement,” Tidwell said. “Dr. Shipley is all for LGBT rights; however, she won’t push it unless asked to.”

While he has been out to the campus community since his freshman year, Devin Osting, radiology sophomore, has yet to come out to his family. He said he has not seen direct discrimination here on campus other than discomfort in public PRIDE events.

Osting said he feels the campus community does a good job at defending the rights of LGBT members, pointing out that the campus hired Christopher Cruz, a homosexual resident assistant.

“I do not think they [homosexuals] are singled out,” Osting said. “There is a homosexual RA right now. It is great to have diversity in any office of power.”

As for where Osting thinks the school could improve, he said the school does a good job protecting the rights of homosexuals, much like others in the community do. He said people are entitled to their own opinions as long as they do not promote harm.

“People are entitled to their beliefs, honestly,” Osting said. “I know that some beliefs are for harming others and those aren’t okay, but the first amendment does protect those with different opinions than others.”