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Equal Benefits for Equal Work: In Support of Domestic Partner Benefits at Western Kentucky University

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Last semester, I was walking up Normal Drive from Mass Media and Technology Hall. A pickup truck full of young men—presumably students—drove by and yelled “faggot” as they passed. I felt humiliated, I felt scared, I felt hurt. But most of all, I felt angry. Homophobia, I’d always been told, had no place on the Hill. This incident proved otherwise.

Last week, the Benefits Committee again showed an ugly homophobia is alive on campus. While they didn’t call us fags to our faces, they did tell gay and lesbian employees and students that we are not seen as equal to our heterosexual colleagues. In a vote of eight to six, the Benefits Committee refused to offer domestic partner benefits to same-sex and opposite-sex unmarried couples.

“But Skylar,” you might say, “if it applies to both gay and straight people, it isn’t homophobic!” This is nothing more than a convenient argument used over and over against offering domestic partner benefits. Lesbian and gay employees can’t be married in Kentucky, so they are unfairly left out of any opportunity to ever have benefits. Besides, even if you don’t think the decision was homophobic, the decision is clearly unfair, as not all employees are granted equal benefits for equal work.

That phrase, “equal benefits for equal work,” is one I used when I first took up this cause last year. In the spring of 2009, as student body vice president, I authored a piece of legislation encouraging WKU to offer domestic partner benefits to unmarried same-sex and opposite-sex couples. I did this out of a desire to achieve a more fair and just university, and the Student Senate agreed—the resolution passed with overwhelming support. Not long after, University Senate passed a similar resolution with similar zeal.

Yet here we are, a year later, and nothing has changed. Not all employees have the same benefits as their colleagues. Unmarried employees who happen to be in long-term relationships but, because either they choose not to or cannot, be married are ineligible to receive the same benefits. This is blatant discrimination and is totally unfair.

And it’s not only unfair to the employees who can’t cover their families. It’s unfair to the university as a whole, including the student body. Not only does it send a message to the world that Hilltoppers are content to discriminate against other Hilltoppers, including students, but it severely hinders our ability to recruit the best and brightest in the respective disciplines. Why would an enlightened genius want to come work at a university that can’t even grasp the kindergarten concept of playing fairly?

Study after study has shown that offering domestic partner benefits is beneficial to recruiting the best employees possible while costing very little to implement. Private sector employers, including a whopping 83% of Fortune 100 companies, offer domestic partner benefits, many of which have offered them since the 1990s or early 2000s. Closer to home, the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville have found ways to offer domestic partner benefits to their employees, despite Kentucky’s repugnant constitutional amendment banning gay marriage (or any recognition of gay couples at all). In the interest of keeping up with the Jones’, we ought to adopt domestic partner benefits, if only to thumb our noses at the other schools.

But if fairness and superiority aren’t reason enough, let’s pull in another controversial issue: health care. No matter which side of the debate you’re on, I hope you’ll agree every American deserves access to health insurance. While many Americans are covered by their spouse’s employer, unmarried partners of Western employees aren’t eligible. According to a study by UCLA’s Williams Institute, “[p]eople with same-sex or different-sex unmarried partners are two to three times more likely to be uninsured than married people, even after controlling for factors influencing coverage.”

The number of uninsured Americans is outrageous, and employers offering domestic partner benefits is one way to drastically drop the number of uninsured. (This should also make you Tea Partiers out there happy, as the federal government is not involved in the least. See, equality can be a conservative issue, too!)

Furthermore, the cost of actually extending benefits at Western would be small, especially when compared to the cost of, say, Chauncey the Bunny or the big red “key” perched on Centennial Mall. According to the Williams Institute, employers offering domestic partner benefits can expect to see a 1.4% to 2.1% increase in employees signing up, which is nary an increase in the number we’re insuring or the cost of insuring them. Those who say cost is a factor are blatantly lying at worst and patently wrong at best.

Whether they’re lying to hide their homophobia or just ignorant to the facts, I can’t be sure. But it is my hope that the eight people on the Benefits Committee will start thinking progressively, or at least contemporarily. This is an issue of fairness, plain and simple. Other universities in Kentucky are already ahead of us on this, and it is time for Western to catch up with the rest of the crowd.

Better that crowd than the crowd that called me a faggot. Western shouldn’t want to be associated with homophobia. When those guys yelled that slur at me, I felt a lot of things, but the Benefits Committee has made me feel something entirely different: ashamed. I’m ashamed that a committee I’ve supported doesn’t support me. I’m ashamed that ignorance and fear have been allowed to prevail. I’m ashamed that inequality and discrimination are rife on this campus.

But most of all, and I never thought this would happen, I am ashamed to be a Hilltopper.

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Skylar’s Naughty and Nice List 2009

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It’s Christmas Eve, which means one thing for my loyal readers: it’s time for Skylar’s annual Christmas presents! Last year, instead of giving presents, I created a naughty and nice list. People responded so well to it that I’ve decided to once again list my naughty and nice in 2009. So despite the fact that it’s not even noon, I’ve got a cocktail in hand and carols playing in the background. And while Santa has made his list and is currently checking it twice, I’m going to let you know just what you naughty and nice buggers have meant to me this year.

Naughty

5.  Kevin Smiley
Running on a platform of breathing new life into SGA and eliminating the good-ole-boy system, you–in not so many words–blasted Kayla Shelton and myself for corruption and lack of vision.  Upon taking office you appoint your brother as your chief-of-staff, showing the buddy system is stronger than ever, and you proceed to make appointments based on personal friendships and political alliances rather than qualifications.  You were good to me when I resigned, for which I give you credit, and you’ve done some good work, but your lack of judgment in your appointments has earned your position on this list.

4.  Jack Tweed and Jackiey Budden
Your wife and daughter, respectively, passed away and not long after the two of you descended into petty behavior and viscous attacks on one another. Jade loved you both—why, I’ll never know—and instead of honoring her memory you took to the press to publicly eviscerate one another. While we all agree that death was Jade’s finest hour, for the two of you, it was your lowest point.

3.  Lieutenant Governor Daniel Mongiardo
Proving that you are still the king of screwing up, you cursed Governor Beshear for not supporting you and, seemingly at every turn, opposed the governor on coal and any other issue you could.  It’s funny, because all you’ve done is ruin your own career.  You began 2009 as the apparent Democratic nominee the US Senate seat being vacated by Senator Bunning, but you end 2009 a disgraced man who will not only lose your bid for Senate but has been replaced as Lt. Governor on the next go-round.  Way to go, Dr. Dan.

2.  Senator Joe Lieberman
Dude, seriously?  Where do I even begin?  You started the year on my shit list and you end it as the political equivalent of Satan in my book.  You’ve done everything you can to oppose President Obama and his agenda–from endorsing McCain in last year’s election to single-handedly holding true health care reform hostage–and you’ve done it all with that arrogant smirk of an entitled buffoon.  It is my sincerest hope that, in 2012, the people of Connecticut will have had enough of your smug ego and do what they should have done in 2006–rid themselves and the rest of us of your presence in the Senate.  For good.

1.  Every single Member of Parliament.
One of the good things of being a transatlantic sort is that you are fluent in two cultures: American and British.  The expenses scandal that rocked Westminster and the whole of the UK back in May took everybody by surprise, and I found myself confused.  This was behavior I had come to expect from politicians on the western side of the Atlantic.  But not in Britain.  If anything, this served as a wakeup call to me (and to scores of others) that Westminster was not as incorruptible as perhaps we’d have naively liked to believe.  No party was left unscathed, and even those who didn’t use taxpayer money to clean their moats or claim a second, third, fourth and fifth home undoubtedly knew something was rotton and said nothing.  Disgusting.

Nice

5.  Dan Choi

You sacrificed your career in order to stand up for equality.  In doing that you became a gay rights icon and a leader of our movement.  Having two siblings in the US army, I know the sacrifices you have made and still make, and I appreciate everything you’ve done so much.  You are a true American hero, and you represent what I love about this country.  Thank you for everything you’re doing on behalf of my equality–and the equality of all LGBT Americans.

4.  Meghan McCain
Sure, we don’t agree on everything, but in 2009 you have shown not only a new side to the Republican party but why we Millennials are so amazing and epic.  Meghan, you are an inspiration to millions of twentysomethings around the country who aspire to be as poised, dignified, and informed as you are.  You have stood up for equality, which as a gay man I am eternally grateful for, and you have been a voice of moderation and reason in a party that to many of us seems to be a party of extremism.  You subscribe to the conservatism of Goldwater and  live-and-let-live philosophy of small government and low taxes which anybody can respect.  I look forward to seeing what you do in 2010 and the ensuing decade, and I have a feeling I may one day be voting for you to be my president.  (A boy can hope, anyway.)

3.  Matthew Sephton
Who would have known the boy I started chatting with on Facebook all that time back would go on to be the Tory PPC to challenge Hazel Blears!  I am so intensely proud of you.  You have shown poise and dignity with everything going on in your campaign, and as the head of LGBTory you have managed to raise the stature and presence of the organisation and really set it on course for success.  You are one of the most intelligent and friendly people I know, and the people of Salford and Eccles would be truly blessed to be represented in parliament by someone like you.  Wishing you the best for 2010!

2.   Rachel Maddow
You have been the ONLY voice in the MSM here in the states to consistently bring up progressive points and counter reactionary arguments.  Your coverage of “The Family,” including their role in the Uganda “Kill the Gays” bill, was invaluable and you have helped to raise the status and stature of progressive journalism.  As an out lesbian you have also helped to raise the banner of equality in the way other LGBT people in the public eye (i.e. Ellen and Adam Lambert) have shied away from.  Your keen insight and analysis and synthesis of the day’s events have allowed a progressive voice to be heard, for which I am enternally grateful.

1.  All of my Tweeps, especially Joe (@joemcd), Will (@willswearsprada), Billy (@wchardin), Colin (@icolin), Ashley (@veganindigo), Jason (@jaekay), Pete (@PeteyBennett) Lawrence (@LawrenceMills) and Patrik-Ian Polk (@patrikianpolk)
2009 was the year I began Tweeting, and thank God I did.  You all have made 2009 bearable for me.  Knowing I could come online and rant and rave to you all was such a comfort during the hard times, and you never failed to entertain me.  I’ve connected with so many amazing Tweeps, and I love you all to death.  Joe, you were probably my first Tweep, and I can’t tell you how much your Twitter-friendship has meant to me.  You are the scarecrow to my Dorothy in the Twitterverse, and I really hope we do get to meet in person soon.  Will, you manage to crack me up whenever I’m down, and I won’t soon forget how you cheered me up when I was especially down.  I hope we get to meet soon, too, cos I think we’d have a proper laugh in between sarcastic banter and putdowns.  Billy, you and I bonded over being from Kentucky, being Hilltoppers and being Anglophiles and in you I found a kindred spirit.  I will be meeting you soon and I cannot wait!  Colin, you let me confide a secret in you and I thank you for that.  You, too, make me smile more than you probably know.  Can’t wait to meet you next week, too!  Ashley, it was so great to meet another intellectual and activist.  You have brightened my life more than you can possibly know.  Jae, buddy, I love tweeting with you and I wish we talked more than we do.  You are absolutely brilliant and our banter makes my day.  Pete, I remember watching you on Big Brother 7 and thinking how much I would love to be your friend.  Following you on Twitter is one of the best decisions I made, cos you always crack me up and bring a smile to my face.  You following me back and a tweeting with you from time to time has been a highlight of 2009 for me.  You’re amazing, perfect Pete!  Lawrence, we’ve only just started getting to know one another, but chatting with you brings me so much pleasure.  You’re such a ray of sunshine.  And Patrik-Ian, you have been such an inspiration to me and your support has meant the world to me.   Thank you for everything you’ve done and all the encouragement you’ve given me.  I love you all!

So there you have it: my naughty and nice list for 2009.  There are tons of people who deserve to be on both lists, so coming up with five for each was difficult.

I hope you all have a blessed, joyous Christmas and a wonderful New Year.  Thank you for your continued support and love.  Each of you have meant the world to me.

Merry Christmas.

x. Skylar

Where the Wild Queens Are (the original, unedited version)

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This is the unedited version of my feature, which ran in the last issue of Rise Over Run Magazine.  As the new issue comes out soon, in which I have a feature on Millennials at the National Equality March, I wanted to post this here, as well.

He runs his hands through my thick, jet black hair, a devious glint in his eye.  My leg is thrown over his shoulders and we’re shedding clothing left and right.  He’s only an inch or so taller than me and fairly scrawny by my standards, not my usual type at all.  But then again, in a town this size, it’s hard to have a usual type.  You pretty much have to take what you can get.  That’s not to say he isn’t cute, though; this boys is definitely a looker.  His gray eyes have a sparkle and his thick, black rimmed glasses slide down his patrician nose as he tosses his shirt on top of his Chucks, tossed haphazardly on the hardwood floor of my dark room.  I hear my roommate move outside my door, but I’m too preoccupied with this boy in my bed.

We kiss deeply, and I moan.  “Mmm… I love it,” he says, grinning devilishly.  “I love it when a boy says my name.”

I keep this in my mind, fully intending on using it to my advantage.  But I freeze.  I pull back and look him in the eyes, the light from the streetlamp bathing us in a yellow glow.  “What is your name?”

“Grayson1,” he says, going in for another kiss.  He isn’t fazed by my party foul at all.  “And yours?”

“Skylar,” I say, making a mental note to submit this to FMyLife as soon as he leaves.

I would love to say this is an exception, rather than a rule.  But awkward moments like this seem to define gay dating in Bowling Green, or at least my experiences.  To begin with, with the exception of two or three, every guy I’ve dated since moving to town in 2004 has been closeted.  Like the guy who dumped me for Jesus.  Or the boy who lied to me about being an SAE, like that would impress me.  (I would have settled for a Kappa Sig.)  Or the boy who left his sleeping girlfriend on the sofa, took her car, and came over to meet up with me.  I’ve been pretty unlucky in love.  But don’t feel sorry for me.  It’s my own damn fault.

Or is it?  I became curious as to why I wasn’t meeting any quality men.  I mean, the gay men have to be out there, right?  Surely they were out there waving rainbow flags and dancing to Lady Gaga, and I just hadn’t been privy to their presence.  There had to be more than closeted fraternity boys and secretive bisexual hipsters to date.  Right?

I’ve never been a regular on the gay scene in Bowling Green.  This lovely queen I knew back in the day used to have parties every Monday that always had a youthful gay turnout, but I haven’t been to one in years and honestly have no clue if he still lives in town.  Those parties used to be the social event of the week for gay men and the women who love them.   But where are the gay men hanging out now?  Had I failed to get the memo?  Surely they are somewhere.

When I first started at WKU in Fall 2004, the Outlet Resource Center was open in McCormack Hall.  A center focusing on outreach to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and questioning (LGBTQ) students, I remember my time there fondly.  It was always full of friendly faces and people, often hall directors, who were willing to listen to your problems.  Because of the level of confidentiality, the Outlet was a safe space for LGBTQ students, many of whom faced prejudice and discrimination on a daily basis, to congregate.  I firmly believe that it was the Outlet that made my first two years at WKU so easy, because it provided me with a support network I might not have had.

However, Housing and Residence Life closed the Outlet in 2007 and now uses the space as storage.  As if turning a gay and lesbian resource center into a closet wasn’t bad enough, WKU never bothered to find the center a new home, and the only place gay and lesbian students had to go ceased to exist.  So where had all the gay boys gone?

Where the boys aren’t

Setting out to find this town’s mythical gay scene is a lot like setting out to find Atlantis: everybody has an idea of where it might be and what it’s like, and it sure sounds magical, but nobody’s really ever been there.   I ask Dustin Bell, a senior theater major, what he’d heard of the local gay scene.  “That it exists,” he says rather tongue-in-cheek.  That’s all Dustin seems to know about the gay scene.  I ask him how he met men, and he answers bluntly: “I don’t.”

Ask any gay man or lesbian on campus and they’ll tell you that there is a gay scene in town; they just don’t know where it is.  Every little lesbian or giddy gay boy seems to think they’re the only one being left out.  There isn’t an official gay bar in town (the closest is in Nashville), though there is a monthly drag show at Ellis Place.

The lack of a local watering hole hinders the development of any gay community, according to “Mark” and “Bill,” a thirty-something couple I spoke to.  They asked not to be identified because they are not out to their families.

“We are just roommates to most,” Mark explained.  I met Mark and Bill on Adam4Adam, a website that, according to its homepage, aims to “help you find new friends and create new relationships quickly and at no cost.”  Of course, it’s a site you don’t want to access in a campus computer lab, as the advertising that keeps the site free is mostly hardcore pornography linking to sites catering to any sexual proclivity you can imagine.  Just ask the lab assistant who threatened to kick me out for looking at porn.  (I insisted I was doing research, but understandably, she didn’t believe me.)

“We get cussed a lot because we are a couple,” Bill says.  “People say ‘why does a couple come on here if they aren’t willing to hook up?’”  Dustin agrees, saying that sites like Adam4Adam, which is joined by the likes of gay.com and Manhunt, are mostly intended for men looking for a quickie.  “There are a few good people on there, but most of them just want sex,” he says.

I’ve used Adam4Adam, Manhunt, and gay.com before, and in my experience both Bill and Dustin are right: the men on those sites are looking for quickies and fly-by-night romances.  They’re not looking for lasting relationships, and they certainly aren’t looking for friends or to network.  This isn’t Facebook for fags.  It’s more like a 21st century glory hole.

That’s part of the problem, says Jeff Herron, a Professor of Sociology at the University of Kentucky and an HIV prevention specialist focusing in men who have sex with men (“MSM”).  He says that in smaller towns, such as Bowling Green, being isolated and the stigma of homosexuality in the local and national culture can have vast consequences for the self-esteem of gay people and drive men into hiding and risky behavior.  “There is definitely a sense of alienation,” Herron says.  “We’re talking about men who live in areas where not only is there a lack of community, but they often lack MSM peers and social networks.”  Herron says that this alienation and lack of community often makes hooking up on sites like Adam4Adam the only viable option.  “In rural areas, the internet is vital for them in meeting partners.”

In talking to the different men and women I’ve come in contact with, this seems to be an extremely common problem.  “John,” a 19 year old WKU student, who asked not to be identified, says that he meets gay locals online.  I meet John at his house, where he is reclined in his bed, comfortable in his gray WKU tee-shirt and gym shorts.  His room is dimly lit, with personal mementos draping the walls and ESPN on the television, which he has me mute.

John classifies himself as “semi-closeted,” saying his friends know he is gay but that he prefers to keep a low profile.  “I’m straight by day, gay by night,” he says with a sheepish grin.  He mentions Manhunt.com specifically, which he says is for “straight up hook ups.” He says he has to go online because there is no bar in Bowling Green for him to meet people.  However, he seems unlikely to go.  “I like to go places where I’m not going to be recognized.” John says he grew up in a conservative world, and prefers to “keep things orderly.” I ask him if “keeping things orderly” means that being gay is somehow disorderly.  He becomes defensive and says that he is afraid of what other people’s reactions might cost him.

I decide to press further, asking John if he is ashamed of being gay.  He falls silent, his eyes falling toward the ground.  He unfolds his arms and refuses to meet my gaze, staying silent for a good minute, before laughing nervously.  “God, I don’t know,” he says finally, a baffled look on his face.  He takes a moment to collect his thoughts before adding “I’m sure that’s the case.”

A light at the end of the tunnel?


It’s this level of self-loathing and homophobia that concerned Kat Michael, a junior from Louisville who, last fall, cofounded the Student Identity Outreach, or SIO.  “Throughout LGBTQ culture we’ve been trained to operate in the shadows,” she said.  Michael wanted to change this.

SIO is the only organization on campus focused on working to provide a safe and educational environment LGBTQ students , she says.  Michael serves as the president.  “For people from small towns, this is the first they’ve been involved” in the LGBTQ community, she says.   “The majority of students are from Kentucky and used to (negative) treatment.” However, she adds that “they become more outraged in SIO seeing they deserve to be treated fairly.  They’re grateful to see us on campus.”

She says that the internet is a great way for LGBTQ students to meet, but that it isn’t always ideal.  People, she says, “can create a weird persona online.  I would rather see you so I can see through you.”   Not that she has a chance to meet many women online.  The online choices for lesbians are much more limited than for gay men.  Michael says they are available, but they’re not popular in Bowling Green.  “For the most part there are fewer outlets for lesbian social networking,” Michael says.  “It boils down to word of mouth.”

The one common thread that every individual I spoke with shares is the notion that word of mouth is the best way to network with other LGBT locals.  Bill and Mark, the couple I spoke to, say they found their friends through other gay friends, and John says that while word of mouth is less important for him, he still finds it useful.  Dustin says that word of mouth is how he meets most of his gay friends, and that is what brought him to the SIO meeting last Monday in Tate Page Hall.  Dustin was one of 43 people who attended last Monday’s meeting.  Though Dustin didn’t meet any potential boyfriends at the meeting, he said it was still nice to be around other gay people.  However, he is still apprehensive.  “I try not to get my hopes up,” he says.

Kat Michael echoes that sentiment.  As we chat in the Subway in Garrett Conference Center, people around us laugh, enjoying an early dinner, and one straight couple catches my eye.  They are holding hands and exchange a butterfly kiss, completely oblivious to an equally oblivious world.  It dawns on me that if I had done that with a boy the entire restaurant would have been gawking at us.  It must have dawned on Kat, too.  “I don’t know if in my life I will ever be able to fully and openly love the person I’m with,” she confesses.

However, John, the closeted 19 year old, has higher hopes for his future, despite his apprehension about the present.  He says that when he gets a job, gets married and has kids he will keep a picture of his partner and children on his desk, the same as his heterosexual colleagues likely will.  “I think that in this new age people are more accepting,” he says.

The mostly unfabulous social life of Ethan Green Skylar Jordan

I haven’t heard from hipster boy Grayson since we hooked up nearly a week ago, and I can say with confidence that it isn’t because I had to ask his name.  A closeted boy like Grayson didn’t want to give me his name, and having met online, I have no way of even knowing if Grayson is his actual name.  The fact is, though many men will profess their interest in something more than a one-night stand (even if it’s just a regular hookup), the risk is too much for closeted boys.  They can’t chance being caught by their friends, their fraternity brothers, their girlfriends.

Bill and Mark, that delightful gay couple I spoke with, say that until the culture of Kentucky changes, not much else can.  “There are way too many holy-rollers that would put a stop to any gay bars or gay hangouts that were public,” Mark tells me.  I’m afraid he may be right.  However, that doesn’t negate the need for something to be done.  Kat Michael is doing wonderful work with Student Identity Outreach, but I imagine even she would agree that one night a week isn’t enough.  Still, it is something.  It gives students like Dustin Bell and John the chance to at least meet other gay individuals in an atmosphere that isn’t rife with the sexual overtones of Adam4Adam or a nightclub in Nashville.

As for now, though, it looks like I’m stuck finding men the new old fashioned way: online.  Perhaps, until I leave this town, I am condemned to date closeted fraternity boys and crazy scene kids who cheat on their girlfriends.  Perhaps I’m doomed to be hit on by married men who married for no other reason than to hide their sexuality.  I mean, it’s kind of hard for a prince on a white horse to gallop up in a chat room that’s sponsored by a site called Chocolate and Cracker Orgies.  (I’ll leave it to you to investigate, but I’m sure you can figure it out.)

Of course, while I’ve been writing this, I’ve been sending e-mails back and forth to a rather sexy guy on Adam4Adam.  We’re making plans to meet this weekend.  Sure, it’s not the fantasy I always had of meeting my dream boy at a gay bookstore or a bar in the gayborhood.  But, like I said, in Bowling Green, you take what you can get.

Written by skylarjordan

October 22, 2009 at 12:16 am