Today I had the lovely experience of mingling with parents of incoming freshman at the University of the Richest State in America. The experience was another of the many tasks one engages in if he/she works with college students. Nevertheless, representing the broad spectrum of Student Activities, my department, at such an affair is certainly noteworthy in the ebb and flow of summer college life. Which is probably why I jumped at the chance to get away from the office.
Dressed in my navy polo shirt (made in a Honduran sweat shop) with department emblem on the left side, and nametag on the right I became an extrovert for about 2 hours. I initiated conversations like: “How you doing? Is there any activity that your son or daughter is particularly interested in?”
This is usually followed by a few different responses…
1. Yes, my son/daughter will be doing sport _____________
2. Yes, my son/daughter does everything.
3. I have no idea…(a typical response for shell shocked, almost empty nested parents.)
4. Well, he/she is interested in a lot of things but he/she is here for the academics first. (My favorite response) which is usually followed by my comment “well we usually find that students who are involved with other things in college tend to be better students and manage their time more efficiently…” (Insert inside voice: “and they meet good people to party with later on…”)
At any rate, those are how the typical conversations went today. Except for one.
A father and mother walk up to our table and I greet them with the usual jovial attitude that you might find during the holiday season…something in between genuine and genuinely tired. The mother proceeds to glance at the array of pamphlets, printed in full color and a damn good waste of resources (not to mention the newly cleared land from the trees that the paper came from).
As the mother stuffs her bag with paper, the father engages me in conversation. “Our daughter is interested in sports (I can’t remember which one…my guess is rugby).” As I hand him the brochure about club sports he proceeds to lean in closer and ask, “do you have any rainbow alliances?” This is the cautious way of asking, “where are the gay people?”
Well, being the good informed employee that I am, I smile saying, “Oh yes, we have a very active Rainbow Center and several groups to chose from as well!” At which point the mother turns around to join the conversation that her husband prodded. I have now become cornered by two parents, who have created a small intimate circle with their bodies, lowering their heads to my level and their voices to match as they begin their assortment of questions about this said “rainbow group”.
The husband says something towards the effect, “we don’t want to intrude” which is code for “we don’t want to assume you are gay but…” at which point the wife stops him, points to me and says, “well obviously is (referring to me)”….meaning that yes, I am gay and obviously I know where the gays are.
(Note: at this point I am laughing out loud in my head and I even stop for a moment to wipe away the tear that is forming out of amusement or even excitement that these parents are taking such interest).
At any rate, I explain to these now rather relieved parents that this campus was once one of the most homophobic back 10 years ago when I was a freshman but today it has been rated as one of the most accepting and active for LGBT students. They were pleasantly surprised and asked why. I explained that it probably had something to do with hiring good, open people and creating excellent programming. They were so happy…like little country pigs in shit.
I went further to say that I myself asked about the level of acceptance on campus when interviewing for the job and was pleasantly surprised. I told them that I frequent the Rainbow Center often (they have a stellar library, DVD selection and award winning people) and that I would be happy to introduce their daughter, as I handed my business card over.
Let me tell you, they were so relieved as they walked away from our table. I even patted the father on the shoulder as he left, as if he was my own father.
Man, times have changed.
Now parents are asking these questions just like the students are. Kids are coming out earlier and they are choosing a college based on how accepting they are. How revolutionary!
Even though the whole encounter was really funny (I was so type cast for my role as Rainbow Center Ambassador) I was really glad I was there today.
I later commented to a coworker and Rainbow Center staff, that next time I will wear my “celebrate diversity” pin but for some reason my “inner butch” was shinning forth today. At which he commented “ ‘Inner Butch’???? Honey, it's showing on the outside with that swagger and short haircut!!!”
Ahhh…you just have to laugh. Gee it’s great to be gay! I so love my job...