By LAURA FRENCH
As political figures in New Jersey battle over same-sex marriage legislation, students at Ramapo College celebrate the LGBTQ community through Queer History Month programming.
Queer History Month, usually referred to as LGBT History Month, is annually observed in October in the United States, and arrives this year just as controversial same-sex marriage proposals are being passed around the NJ state government. Ramapo College’s Women’s Center will host several events this month focusing on LGBTQ issues in observance of Queer History Month.
“Ramapo has decided to use ‘queer’ as a word just because it’s more encompassing for people who identify within the broad spectrum of sexuality.” says Yovanna Garcia, who works as the queer peer services coordinator at the center.
LGBT History Month was first founded in 1994 and is aimed at celebrating the history of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender role models, according to Equality Forum’s website. The event falls in October due to the celebration of National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11, which has been celebrated since 1988.
“Coming out is a big issue on a college campus,” says Garcia. “For some people, coming, living with a roommate is a first in their lives – they probably never had to share space or living space with someone, and then coming here and having to, you know, now sharing a room with someone of the same sex, it might be hard to deal with. So coming out to themselves and to others is a challenge.”
In previous years, Ramapo has celebrated National Coming Out Day with a speak out in which LGBTQ students could share their own coming out stories. This year, the day was celebrated by the appearance of two speakers, Cindy Meneghin and Maureen Kilian, a same-sex couple who have been part of the legal battle for marriage equality in New Jersey.
Marriage debate heats up after court ruling
Ramapo students are not the only ones paying attention to LGBT issues this month – debate over same-sex marriage legalization, which was sparked in late-September by a controversial court decision, has spilled over into October, which Garcia calls “perfect timing.”
On Sept. 27, Judge Mary C. Jacobson of the State Superior Court in Mercer County made a ruling that same-sex marriage must be allowed in New Jersey on the basis of the Supreme Court’s repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act in June. Although the state is scheduled to begin recognizing same-sex marriages on Oct. 21, Governor Chris Christie is working to appeal the ruling and prevent same-sex marriages from occurring in the state.
“If my children came to me and said they they were gay, I would grab them and hug them and tell them I love them, just like I would do with any of my children who came to me with news that they wanted to give to me that they thought were important enough to open themselves up in that way,” Christie said during the gubernatorial debate at Montclair University on Oct. 15. “But what I would also tell them is that Dad believes that marriage is between one man and one woman, and that’s my position.”
However, Christie believes the decision on same-sex marriage should be put in the hands of New Jersey’s voters. “If, in fact, at the end of the day, the people of New Jersey were given the opportunity to vote, and voted differently, I would support that law.” he says.
Christie, who visited Ramapo on the first day of the month shortly before the school’s Diversity Day event, left an impression on the students, who are also potential voters. Diversity Day, an event organized by the school’s Diversity Action Committee student group and co-sponsored by over 20 other clubs, was an event meant to bring awareness and acceptance of the differences between people, including race, religion, gender, ability, and sexual orientation.
“I think it’s very ironic that he came on Diversity Day and he spoke of being listening to each other and listening to the majority and I think, you know, he’s kind of contradicting himself saying that,” Garcia says. “You know, in August he passed a law that bans gay conversion therapy and then now within the past two weeks he rejected – he’s going to appeal Judge Jacobson’s, her judgement to let, you know, gay folk marry. And his administration’s going to appeal that so that’s pretty interesting.”
Another student, Christopher Gabbett, has a different view. “I agree with Governor Christie that it should not be the role of one judge to legislate” he says. Gabbett, who is president of the College Republicans at Ramapo, says the issue “should be the will of the people” and “should be put on the ballot.”
“I think that if it is upheld in this manner it sets a precedence for damaging the system of checks and balances between the three branches of government.” Gabbett says. About his personal view on same-sex marriage, he says, “I am in favor of traditional marriage, but believe that same sex couples should be allowed to have civil unions with the exact same tax benefits, visitation rights, inheritance rights, etc, as a married straight couple.”
Political battle draws attention to voters, queer community
According to a statewide voter registration summary, about 33 percent of registered New Jersey voters are Democrats and and about 20 percent are Republicans. Additionally, in a recent poll by Farleigh Dickinson University, 62 percent of respondents said that there should be no more legal action against same-sex marriage in New Jersey. If Christie’s appeal succeeds and same-sex marriage is put on the ballot, New Jersey citizens will ultimately decide the fate of marriage equality in the state.
“Go vote,” says Gabbett, as a message to voters. The 21-year-old recounts his visit to Arlington Cemetery, where he saw the tombstones of soldiers who were younger than him, and says, “Don’t let them die in vain.”
Garcia also sends out a message, to LGBTQ or “queer” people during this eventful time in their history, saying “Don’t be afraid to be yourself.” She stresses the importance of seeking out resources that the Women’s Center and other centers have to offer, and says “Times are changing, and people are realizing that change needs to happen.”
The Women’s Center will continue to host Queer History Month events this month, including “Can the L in LGBT Stand for Latin@?” on Oct. 16, “Where Does Pink Fit in the Rainbow” on Oct. 21, and a meet and greet on Oct. 17 with speaker Shanna Katz who will talk about the intersection of being both queer and disabled.
Queer History Month’s keynote speaker, Sam Killerman, activist and comedian who founded The Safe Zone Project and wrote “The Social Justice Advocate’s Handbook: A Guide to Gender,” will be speaking at the school’s alumni lounges on Oct. 22.