Experts from FAU, the Human Rights Council and Compass weigh in on issues impacting the local gay/lesbian community.
Lauren Walleser:The LGBTQA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer questioning and ally) specialist at Florida Atlantic University works out of the Office of Multicultural Affairs.
Trent Steele: In addition to running his longtime law practice in the northern part of the county, Steele has served for 15 years on the board of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council.
Julie Seaver: Since 2007, Seaver has been director of development for Compass—the gay/lesbian community center of the Palm Beaches, which is celebrating 25 years in 2013.
How important is maintaining a strong sense of identity to the gay community?
Walleser: People who have common experiences based on their identity will want to keep those identity groups. But, hopefully, it will be easier to fit into the larger human community at the same time.
Seaver: Twenty years ago, at the beginning of our youth program, you were assigned a mental health counselor. That was part of the process. Things have changed. Yes, there are some kids who need more counseling than we’re able to provide. But we’re past the idea that just because you’re identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender that you’re broken and need to be on the couch with a counselor.
What I wonder is if the kids of tomorrow will still be forming gay/straight alliances in high schools because there is a need? Or will they feel so included in the high school that they don’t feel the need to have a separate support system.
Walleser: Like gay marriage. Maybe we won’t call it same-sex marriage, maybe we’ll just call it marriage, rather than having to make that distinction. That’s a big one that constantly irks me.
Are there situations, because of the perceptions that other people bring to the room, that make you feel uncomfortable? Or are you past that?
Steele: I’m in court a lot, and there’s always a blood mobile outside the courthouse. Inevitably, the person trying to solicit donors will come up to me and ask if I want to give blood. I’m always patient about it, and then I’ll tell the worker, “Unfortunately, you don’t want my blood.” That worker doesn’t have a clue that [there is a bias against a gay man donating blood]. But I’ll ask them to talk to [their superiors] about that, because it’s hurtful, it’s embarrassing and it makes me uncomfortable every time I’m approached.
Seaver: I’ve experienced pushback from the lesbian community because I had a daughter by traditional methods. Also, because I don’t identify as a more masculine identity, I’ll get “You don’t know what it’s like for [masculine-looking lesbians].” People actually come in the community center and say, “You’re gay? You don’t look gay?” Well, what does gay look like?
Walleser: Within the lesbian community, people confuse sexual orientation with gender expression. I’ve certainly heard, “You really need to butch up; no one is going to think you’re a lesbian.” Or, “You need to leave your purse in the car.” I like purses. What does that have to do with being gay?
Seaver: Hi, I’m the other lesbian who doesn’t own on flannel shirt or a pair of Birkenstock sandals. (everyone laughs)
Walleser: People also assume that because you’re fem, you would want to be paired with someone more masculine presenting—again, it’s putting people into roles. So my partner is very fem also, and that just throws everyone off. ... It’s horrible that we put ourselves in boxes within the gay community. We have so much, as a community, that we need to continue to fight for—we don’t need to have an internal struggle.
To read more from our roundtable, pick up the May/June issue of Boca Raton magazine.