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What's it like to be queer at bates?

Over the years, officers in OUTfront have been contacted by prospective students asking us what we think of Bates. Is it queer-friendly? Can I be out at Bates? Is Lewiston queer-friendly? Are the students homophobic? We've all tried to answer these questions as best we can, but since everyone's perspective and experiences are different, we've decided to compile the thoughts of many different students, (some OUTfront members, some not) to give you a complete picture.

 

"I think one thing that you have to understand when you're looking at colleges is that there is no perfect school to be out at. Some colleges are better, much better, than others, and some are nearly perfect, but the notion that people grow up and stop being homophobic once they hit college, or that there are places anywhere in this world where homophobia doesn't exist, just never seem to hold true. That being said, I think Bates is as close to perfect as you will get. If you go to some huge school in a city, there will be so many people that even if half the campus is really homophobic, you might never meet them. But with a campus so small that you'll meet/recognize most of the people by the time you graduate, there are very few really homophobic people here, and the overall attitude is acceptance and support. (Some people still haven't figured out that "That's so gay!" isn't an OK expression, but most people have learned that being openly homophobic isn't tolerated here) That's part of what makes me like Bates so much - that the culture here is just so laid back and friendly and accepting, and everyone seems to find their niche, which is rare in a school this small. I was not out in high school, but I've been out since the day I got to Bates, and it's never been an issue. I've found Bates to be overwhelmingly accepting, to the point where people are almost frustratingly unexcited about it - I thought it was such a big deal to be out at the beginning, and I expected people to be startled or upset or need some time or something, but more often than not, they'd just shrug and say "cool." I've noticed that queer students seem to think Bates is a pretty great place for their first few years here, and then gradually get frustrated after a couple of years, when they're past being happily surprised that Bates is so accepting, and they start noticing ways in which it's not. Bates does have a number of out queer students, although many more women are out than men. OUTfront has a cozy little office upstairs in Chase Hall, and does pretty much whatever people are interested in, in terms of speakers or movie showings or going to conferences, etc."

"My opinion is that Bates is a fine place to be GLTBQA but not great. To speak from my experience, I have trouble classifying myself, but I love people and I am open to and have been sexual with both men and women. I suppose that my sexual identity is well described as bisexual. Though I am not "in the closet", I am also not very active in being open about it. If it comes up I am willing to discuss it or act on it, but I find this does not happen very often at Bates. I would assume that most of the people I interact with on a daily basis would not be aware of this aspect of me. I find that the Bates community is on the whole accepting of GLTBQA's, but the social situations do not promote people to be open about it. It seems to me that one can be open and feel very safe at Bates, but they will not be encouraged to openly discuss their sexuality. In my case, I am simply not aware of who else is in my situation, or which guys I could approach- so I tend not to approach guys. I appreciate the hard work that OUTfront is doing, and recognize that Bates has the potential to be a great place to be GLTBQA, but we are not there yet."

"After transferring from a college that is far less gay-friendly (Denison in Ohio..oh the conservative midwest), I have been pretty pleased at my experiences at Bates. There were actually a lot more queer identified students than I expected to begin with. My expectation was that Bates is generally pretty accepting but there just weren't a lot of gay kids.  The one thing I have noticed is that
there IS a lot language going on, all the time. "that's so gay..." etc. But I don't think that's just Bates, I think that that's everywhere you go sadly."

"I'm an out, white, antiracist, lesbian-identified woman at Bates.  I list all of these identifications in acknowledgement of how they each influence my experiences being queer here.  In terms of the positive and negative experiences of queerness and/or being out at Bates, I usually feel as though academically, Bates is a great place to be out and queer (specifically in relation to the responsiveness and attentiveness of professors, the inclusion of queer-related topics in class, etc.).  However, I think it's a less than ideal environment socially and politically.  In terms of politics, I find that Bates/OUTFront is relatively lacking... we've recently had a type of multicultural, diversity initiative on campus, and OUTFront was relatively invisible in that initiative. I'm not saying that is entirely a reflection of the depoliticization of the organization, but it is important in terms of what types of issues OUTFront addresses, and how the student organizations on campus work with one another.  Also, each year, there are some more politically-inclined queer students, though I feel that these students often let minor differences in their political strategies or goals inhibit working together toward achievement of larger, overarching movement goal.  As related to the social environment for queer people on campus, I observe a fairly clear polarization between queer students who are friends with other queer students, and those who aren't (and I'm talking about out queer students).  I've felt much more welcomed by straight people than by members of the queer community.  Sometimes I've felt as though you need to be a certain type of queer person in order to be welcomed by other queer students.  That may in part be because the community is fairly small, and extremely cliquish."

"I have never been discriminated against, for being queer, at Bates. It is also important to note that most of my friends identify as queer. With these two things in mind I would say that I have created a safe, queer-friendly, space at Bates. But, being queer is not the norm and being queer friendly is not an expectation on this campus. I have heard countless tales of people being verbally discriminated against as well as having property physically damaged. These acts of hate are not just directed at students, but faculty and staff as well. At bates it is possible to make friends with queer-friendly people (who are both straight and queer) and go through four years without experiencing any trouble. It is also possible to feel like you are being discriminated against on a daily basis and feel like the campus is unsafe and  misinformed. There is a lot of ignorance about proper terminology and a hesitancy to ask questions or actively educate oneself. Within the queer community itself there are disputes about what words are okay to use/inclusive and what terms are exclusive and somewhat discriminatory. There is a clear rift within OUTfront (the ally/queer group on campus) between folks who are very particular about word choice and those who don't seem to be offended by certain labels. Sometimes this rift leads to positive dialogues, sometimes it leads to pointless bickering. In general I would say there are probably campuses (i.e. Wesleyan & Hampshire) that are much more queer friendly but others that are worse. Bates enjoys floating with the average... not being too different from other liberal arts schools... this holds true with queer issues as well as everything else. "

"I think that compared to the grander US culture, Bates college is a healthy place for GLBT people.  As someone who discovered her queer tendencies at age 11, I do not look for a support group at Bates...instead I look for people who are willing to understand difference and embrace people who are inherently against the norm, in ways such as being queer, a student of color.  Although I have found that the people with whom I am close are very open, I am less inclined to speak about my sexuality in front of people who I don't know than I would in other communities (I guess this is relative, because I was raised in a counter culture which is very liberal and supportive of GLBT issues at it's core)."

"I've been involved with OUTfront, the student group "for people of all genders and sexualities" since my first year here. It's gotten bigger and changed in other ways over the years. I came out during my first year here (to myself and others) and have had a good experience as an out queer person at Bates. I know the experiences of others have differed, but my friends and the community of people, including students, staff, and faculty who I interact with are very accepting. That isn't to say everyone at Bates is, but I personally haven't had any problems. There are a significant
number of allies, and many of them wear rainbow ribbons on their backpacks, which is something OUTfront has done since I've been here -- handed out rainbows for people to show they're allies. In terms of outside of Bates, Lewiston isn't exactly the most queer friendly place, like NYC might be or some other urban center, but I haven't had any problems and there are plenty of nice accepting people. Also, Portland, which is about 40 minutes away has a fairly large queer population
(for Maine at least, I'm not sure how it compares with NYC). I grew up in CT in an area where I wasn't exposed to any openly gay people or issues but now am totally out on campus and to my family and everything and have a lot of queer friends. There's a gay bar fairly nearby, but I don't think it's really a "typical" urban gay bar that one might think of if you're thinking of NYC or DC or something like that, but it's there, which I think is cool. I've been there once for a drag show they put on. Some of the bigger names speakers we've had over the last few years are: Leslie Feinberg (trans activist and author of Stone Butch Blues and Trans Liberation); Wilson Cruz (My So Called Life); Danny Roberts (MTV's Real World); Jenny Boylan (trans professor at Colby). There are a fair number of events, speakers, performers and activities that OUTfront does. We have a weekly meeting and once in a while have a movie showing or game night. It's generally pretty relaxed
although we do sometimes have our disagreements and intense discussions (like any other group). Last semester I brought a photo exhibit about queer families. Every October, we have Coming Out Week, when we write with chalk all over the sidewalks on the quad about coming out stuff, and acceptance, and things like that. And we have a drag show -- pretty amateur, but fun for those involved."

"Through my own experience, I have found that Bates is an incredibly gay friendly campus. During my freshman year, I found it quite clear that the people on my hall did not accept any sort of homophobic language. Even phrases like "that's so gay," were nowhere to be found. That being said, I know that some other people's experiences have been different from mine in that they feel Bates could be more accepting. I feel, however, that the reason people feel this way is not because the GLTBQ community is looked down upon... I feel that these people are not necessarily satisfied with Bates due to the actual population of openly GLTBQ students. In truth, there are some other schools who happen to have larger gay populations. However, I know of other schools that have larger gay populations, BUT the campuses aren't nearly as gay friendly as Bates. In short, when I look back at the past two years I have spent at Bates, I look at it as the place that has given me the strength and courage to actually talk about my sexuality and to not be ashamed of it. I look at Bates as a place that has not judged me negatively due to my sexuality.  In many ways, I see it as a place that praises me for being who I am."

 

 

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