LGBTQA History Month Dinner focuses on homophobia among family members

By Robin Walz on October 27th, 2011

Sarah Schulman took a drink of water and cleared her throat as the 300 audience members waited for the conclusion of her speech Thursday night.

"We have to acknowledge that homophobia is the problem, not homosexuality."

With those words, the respected author concluded her speech at the ninth annual LGBTQA History Month Dinner Oct. 27 at the Embassy Suites in Lincoln.

An activist, playwright and journalist, as well as cofounder of MIX NYC, New York City's lesbian and gay film festival, Schulman was the key speaker of the event, presenting ideas from her book "Ties that bind — Familial Homophobia and its Consequences."

The book presents the experiences of homophobia within the family. Before the dinner started, Schulman signed copies of her book.

"We are working towards a social agreement that homophobia is a pathology," she said.

Society is part of the problem, she said. People try to find a reason for homosexuality, instead of finding out why homophobia exists. This is especially for familial homophobia, in which family members face rejection from their parents, siblings or relatives because they're gay.

Despite that, it took Schulman 13 years of research to complete her book because she said the issue of familial homophobia is so repressed.

"I had to invent the name for it because there wasn't one," Schulman said of the term, ‘familial homophobia.' "Everybody just calls it, ‘it,'" she said.

The family is the place where most people are introduced to homophobia, Schulman said. "Nobody intervenes because the family seems untouchable in our society."

Schulman said she thinks this is an issue caused by a heterosexual culture. Yet the LGBTQA community is seen as the cause and punished when they attempt to rectify this, she said.

Today, people are far more likely to call the police if they witness a sexual assault or have knowledge of it than they were in decades past, Schulman said, because society itself has changed.

It is this change that Schulman said she hopes to achieve for homosexuals, making it socially unacceptable to ignore homophobia.

"Silence is the greatest gift you can make the perpetrator," Schulman said.

She said she believes that as a whole, society can change. It's the influence of political and religious leaders and of friends and family that cause the belief that we have to be homophobic, Schulman said.

Families should no longer have the right to shun homosexual members, Schulman said.

At the end of her speech, Schulman received widespread applause and a gift from the LGBTQ Resource Center as memorabilia from her first visit to Nebraska.

Apart from her lecture, the evening had a diverse entertainment program. Stacey Waite, a new assistant professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, received thunderous applause and laughter for her beat poetry performance.

The three poems depicted her experiences of being mistaken for a man in her childhood and in more recent events.

Rebecca McPherson also performed a live rendition of "Open Road" by Eve 6.

Pat Tetreault, director of the LGBTQA Resource Center in Lincoln, held the opening speech, calling the dinner both a celebration of the history of the organization as well as an event that makes history with a record attendance of more than 300 people.

"We've come a long way," Tetreault said.

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