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Panel Discusses Pride-Building

Scholars' Talk on Homophobia and Biphobia Attracts 150

By Jonathan Samuels

At a panel discussion Saturday, four academics discussed ways to promote pride in the lesbian, gay and bisexual community in the face of massive discrimination.

"Building Identities Against Homophobia and Biphobia," one of 58 sessions at Harvard this weekend at the "Pleasure/Politics" conference on lesbian, gay and bisexual studies, drew more than 150 people to the Science Center.

Warren Blumenfeld, co-author of Looking at Gay and Lesbian Life, chaired the panel, opening the seminar with a definition of the term "homophobia," which he said is too often misconstrued.

"Homophobia does not get across the insidious condition it means to define," he said, referring to the violence incurred upon lesbians, gays and bisexuals rather than the dictionary definition of "fear."

Ron Simmons, an assistant professor at Howard University in Washington, D.C., provoked the crowd's loudest response of the afternoon in his discussion of "Homophobia in Black Cultural Nationalistic Literature."

While pausing for applause and chuckles from the audience throughout his speech, Simmons criticized Black heterosexual intellectuals for their biases against gay Black men, citing such examples as "Black men should be masculine and not faggots because they dominate the sport of boxing," and "Some gay Blacks result from young Black boys playing with blond dolls."

Simmons said he also is disturbed that some heterosexual Blacks refuse to bridge the sexual gap with the gay population, even when basic racial issues arise. However, he said the gay population should try its hardest to keep the lines of communication open.

"We shouldn't let our anger hurt our common beliefs with heterosexual Blacks," he said.

Amanda Udix-Kessler, a graduate student at Boston College and member of the Physicians for Human Rights in Somerville, Mass., defended the bisexual population from both heterosexual and homosexual persecution.

"We're often stuck in the middle," Udix-Kessler said. "The heterosexuals tell us `You don't exist', or, in other words, `I'm not gay.' The gays and lesbians, on the other hand, say `Get away from me,' or, in other words, `I am gay.'"

Udix-Kessler concluded by setting a goal for the bisexual community--to help create a better understanding between the homosexuals and heterosexuals.

"Let's stop fence-sitting," she said. "Let us strive to be bridge builders."

Rounding out the panel were Claudia Card, a philosophy professor at the University of Wisconsin, and William P. Norris, professor of sociology at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio. Card discussed "Homophobia and Lesbian/Gay Pride," explaining a lesbian, gay or bisexual's fear of the shame from public exposure, while Norris presented a case study of Oberlin entitled "Homophobia in a Liberal Institution."

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