Streaming through “Princeton Reviews 331 Best” college bible, visions of tree huggers and modern day hippies fill my mind. To the outsider Middlebury appears to be a liberal and accepting school, however deeply rooted in these Vermont hills there is actually an abundance of hatred and ignorance toward the gay and lesbian community. With confidence I will say that an upward movement of acceptance and awareness toward those of different sexual backgrounds is on its way.
Growing up in the “Lesbian Capital of the World” (Park Slope, Brooklyn) stories such as burning a symbol of gay acceptance, a closet, is unheard of. Middlebury College has a much more conservative past than it appears to have, which has unfortunately produced such events. In “Gaypril” of 1998 the small yet growing gay community in Middlebury came together to express their want for equal acceptance and built a closet to represent this request. There act of courage was burnt down by others in the community who felt disgusted and angered by this display. Four years later Middlebury students, professors and locals once again gathered the strength to approach this delicate issue and the same ignorance prevailed, the closet was torn down as well as the hope for a new movement. The gay and lesbian information board run by MOQA has been torn down multiple times, a Professor Cornwall quit after twenty years of working at Middlebury due to “frustration over what he says is a hostile campus climate around gay issues” (Rutland Herald, April 1998). A student was even thrown into a snow drift for being gay. The amount of shock and disgust that ran through my head is immeasurable. A fear for the first year students who are debating with themselves, whether or not to “come out of the closet” has definitely become prevalent in my mind. It is unfortunate and disappointing; however in the petite town of Middlebury there is a gay community that has begun to have a compelling voice.
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There was a time that “closet republicans” were the town majority, however currently events such as the “Rainbow Festival” are becoming an extreme success. Apparently the gay community goes through times where the promotion of awareness is strong, as well as times where the voice is subdued and nothing gets accomplished. I strongly believe that through new programs that are uprising including discussion groups run at Middlebury College a community can be created that appreciates and respects all people of various sexual orientation. One point that definitely shines light on this situation is the Civil Union Law for gay couples, which only exists in the state of Vermont. It was quite interesting to learn that Vermont is more divided by issue than by party, therefore the law made it through the court system after being carefully constructed and strategically argued for. This method of helping gays and lesbians retrieve more equal rights is definitely a path headed in the right direction. It does not force everyone to change their values instantly; instead it slowly eases the thought process in the right direction.
Culture can be a beautiful thing, however in this case it has forced many people to be ignorant of something so natural and wonderful. The gay community has more to offer than we can imagine. The issue of the burning of the closet is no longer historical, my classmates and myself are its history. This coming year I expect to see a closet standing in the lawn and it will gleam of courage, equality and respect.
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