As you may have already noticed, the Wharton Journal has “gone gay” in conjunction with this week’s upcoming Rainbow Pub and LGBT Student Day. Some of you may be wondering why the LGBT community deserves their own edition, and many of you have already correctly guessed it’s because I’m the Publisher (as well as one of those gays). I hope the articles you read espouse the supportive environment that has been created at this school and introduces you to just a few of the amazing people who help to foster this positivity. In addition to these articles, I want to share my personal story and my perspective on the LGBT scene at Wharton. I write about my life not to preach my ideology, but because even in the liberalized world we live in, I think much mystery still exists about the LGBT community and it may help to personalize it.
I realized I was different sometime around sixth grade. Not obviously gay, but I didn’t care about the same things other kids did. Contrary to popular belief, I wasn’t all of a sudden party planning and deciding how to redecorate my closet (although I will admit to a Celine Dion obsession). I couldn’t connect like I used to with my friends, couldn’t talk about girls and gross things, and as any kid going through puberty knows, feeling like an outcast is the worst – so you do everything you can to fake it.
I suppressed my feelings for almost ten years before coming to grips with who I was. I first admitted I was gay to a gay friend of mine during an all night college drinking session when I was 21. I ended up crying on top of his freezer (I was in Nebraska) for more than two hours before passing out, and woke up the next morning next to a two foot pile of Kleenex. The worst was now over – I had told someone how I felt. Now I had to tell my family and friends, but I was no longer scared. And when I did tell my parents, I decided to tell them separately and they were hilarious. My father reacted by saying nothing for 15 minutes, then asked if I still liked football. My mother assumed I had asked to talk to her “immediately” because I had some sort of incurable disease, and her response was: “No shit, is that it?”
Being gay does not define who I am. I have a significant other – just a different gender, I go out to bars – just different bars occasionally, I listen to music – just a little more One Direction and Katy Perry than others, and I still want to be professionally successful and get married and have a family – with no qualifier. I’m not as strong of a gay advocate as I should be; I’ve never marched for equality, I’ve never gone door to door fighting for what I believe. Many of my classmates have done this and more, and I’m humbled by their courage and action.
Stereotyping LGBTers and giving them a homogenous set of characteristics is one of the reasons I believe people remain in the closet even with a supportive a network, and it happens here at Wharton. I have no interest in watching a drag show, let alone participating in one, and I cannot find more than one other gay person at this school willing to watch football with me on a Sunday. These (obviously simplified) divisions can be overcome, but the problem is that people work so hard to find a group of friends and a network who will understand and accept them, only to be faced with a set of expectations on how they should act. To the LGBT community: embrace our history, remember the actions that have empowered us, but celebrate the individuality of the person. We have fought so hard to be treated as equal, but we need to be as inclusive of different lifestyles as we have demanded from everyone else. Straights: don’t stereotype either. Do you want me to associate all of you with Kim Kardashian or Kayne West?
Overall, being LGBT at Wharton has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. The Out4Biz community, especially Allies, have instilled confidence and self-worth in me, and I will walk out of this school more proud of my sexuality than when I walked into it. Each time I see a classroom full of rainbow stickered nameplates, it’s hard not to feel proud.
But that doesn’t mean we should be content with where we are. We may be increasing our LGBT population each year, but historically, women have made up a low percentage of the LGBT community. If Wharton can be 45% female, why don’t lesbians make up 45% of the LGBT population at business school? Furthermore, how many of you would be as understanding of a bisexual or transsexual? Up until a couple of years ago, I doubt I would have been.
While there is still a lot of work to be done, I want to give my sincere thanks to the LGBT community at Wharton and UPenn, and to the Allies, official and unofficial. We have created a safe and fun environment for everyone to succeed regardless of sexuality and that should be part of the message Wharton sends to prospective students everywhere. That and our gays and lesbians are way better than Harvard’s.