50 Years of Women at Tech
In a unique minority, gay women face more struggles on campus
It's unknown exactly how long gay women have been on campus. The highly prejudiced yet unspoken attitude society held against homosexuals in the mid-20th century would have intimidated most into silence. In fact, the first official declaration that gay women were present at Tech didn't come until the winter of 1988, when a dozen or so friends met and formed the Gay and Lesbian Alliance (GALA), which was officially chartered as a student organization by SGA the following October.
GALA quickly became involved in the gay community on campus, in Atlanta and nationwide. Since its chartering, GALA has participated in a wide variety of activities, including Georgia Tech's Coming Out Week, the Martin Luther King Day Parade, the Day of Silence and Atlanta Pride, the city's gay festival.
The organization renamed itself the Pride Alliance last year to reflect its broader diversity of sexual expression, including straight, bisexual, transgender and questioning students. It's through the Alliance that the struggles that Tech has faced with this diversity are revealed, especially in the case of gay women, who find themselves in two prominent, unique minorities. But the women who are part of the Alliance-whether gay, straight or other-have the most thorough understanding of what it means to be a gay woman on campus.
Sara Marshall is a third-year HTS major who's been involved with the Alliance since she saw the booth advertising the organization at FASET. "The people were all really nice, and I made some friends, so we started going to the meetings together," she said. She now serves as Vice President of the Alliance, a position she said her friends encouraged her to accept.
Kristen Reynolds, a second-year Aerospace Engineering major, found out about the organization through friends. "It's a nice group of people," she said. "[There's] a lot of support. I appreciate that...It's therapeutic sometimes." She also mentioned that it's helped her get to know a different side of Atlanta.
Valerie Garrison is a third-year Psychology major who's also been heavily involved with the Alliance. She recalled how she first found out about the organization through friends who were involved. She joined and eventually took a position as secretary, because "I wanted to become more involved in the organization, and I've always been an obsessive note-taker, so the office just made sense." She also noted that in addition to the social and leadership benefits, the Alliance is "very supportive of personal expression (sexual or otherwise). That's a priceless benefit."
Tech, they said, has grown to not only accept women on campus, but to accept women associated with an organization that still bears a strong stigma within society at large. Reynolds said that while she does feel a stigma sometimes, "Most of my experiences have been positive...[People are] generally accepting...[although] it depends on what group you go to." Marshall, despite her role in the Alliance, isn't even aware of a stigma against her. Garrison agreed: "Either people don't have an opinion of it, or I don't notice any negatives. I'm fairly unconcerned with what people think."
Reynolds and Marshall feel that the mere presence of the Alliance put Tech in a positive light. "It says that the school is very open-minded to all sorts of activities," said Reynolds. "It sends a good message to the rest of the university system...There are people like you everywhere no matter what you are." Marshall agreed. "It says that Georgia Tech is becoming a little bit more liberal than it was 20 years ago." This greater tolerance of the gay community is reflected in the increased membership that the Pride Alliance has acquired since its inaugural year, but things aren't perfect. "Sometimes the idea of homosexuals (as in when we advertise events) is not taken well with the Tech community," said Garrison.
Although gay women, in a rare turnabout for the Tech community, apparently have the upper hand over their male counterparts in being more accepted. "You can't look at a female and say 'she's gay,' whereas most times you can look at a male and automatically recognize stereotypes associated with homosexuality within the male gender," said Marshall. "They're easier targets." Furthermore, she said, "guys tend to think lesbians are cool." Still, said Garrison, "Stereotypes and name-calling occur to both males and females." Reynolds said the Alliance works to discourage this attitude by bringing more straight allies into the fold.
Yet the Pride Alliance still shows a lack of female membership that's common among a number of organizations. This may be due in part to the ever-prevalent "Ratio," but Marshall also noted that gay women tend to fall out once they've entered into a relationship. Furthermore, she said, "women don't become involved in activist groups, and this is such a conservative campus, a lot of women might be uncomfortable connecting themselves with a gay group." On the other hand, said Reynolds, some women hold out on the meetings and just attend the Alliance's events. "I don't know why. Maybe [there are] issues there with each individual."
They said that being a woman, though, didn't compound any problems they had in their association with the Alliance or even with Tech in general. Garrison felt that "lesbians or bisexual women possibly have as much of a difficult time as other women in society," so being associated with the Alliance didn't make a difference. Echoing the voice of many other Tech women, Reynolds and Marshall have noticed few problems on campus due to their gender. "I haven't felt discriminated against," Reynolds said. "I think we [women] have the same advantages and disadvantages as any other student."
In short, gay women, one of the newest minorities on campus, have managed to advance and become accepted more quickly at Tech than women in general. And while there have been scattered abuses that homosexuals have suffered at the hands of fellow classmates, gay women have overall encountered few difficulties due to their sexual orientation and/or association with the Alliance. This reflects both Tech's increasing diversity of women and Tech's growing acceptance of that diversity, including those women that come from a minority that still bears one of society's strongest stigmas.
But that doesn't mean they've achieved full acceptance. "Compared to the greater Atlanta area and other colleges (including non-technical schools), Tech could be more accepting," said Garrison. "I know that Tech has improved its diversity and acceptance thereof. I just believe it can be improved even more."
Editor's note: The Technique apologizes for the misspelling of Mandy Lowey's last name in this series on 2/21. The correct spelling is Lowey, not Lowry. Also, the series will be on haitus 3/28 because of the Technique's annual April Fool's issue.