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An Open Letter from the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program on Homophobia, Heterosexism, and Gender Violence


We, the faculty and staff of the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at Oregon State University, were dismayed to read the recent article in the Daily Barometer, “Candidate Admits to Posting Anti-Gay Slurs,” in which OSU student and ASOSU presidential candidate Bret Barlow admits to being an administrator for the Facebook page, “We Burn Homosexuals for a Living,” and writing the comment, “… do we seriously burn homosexuals for a living or is this a joke? i need to know now since i have a fag tied up and im holding a can of gas and a lighter.” Barlow stated that the comments were “in poor taste” and were “a really bad joke.”

We are deeply disturbed that the torture and murder of people because of their sexual orientation could be dismissed or excused as a joke, and we encourage the campus community to take very seriously the violence and damage that language causes. To many of us at OSU, such words do not come across as a joke—in poor taste or otherwise—they come across as a threat. They poison our campus and make us feel unsafe in spaces where every one of us should be able to grow and thrive. Words have the power to incite violence, and they enact emotional and psychological violence on those whose lives, experience, and communities they target.

Homophobia, heterosexism, and transphobia are systems of oppression and violence that take place together with sexism, racism, classism, ableism, Christian supremacy, sizeism and other systems that decide—in short—who is worthy of life and who is marked for death. Violence against people because of their sexual orientations and genders is real. It happens in our homes, on the streets, and in our schools. It happens at the hands of our parents, peers, religious leaders, and the police. Just earlier this month, here in Oregon, Jessica Dutro was found guilty of murdering her 4-year-old son Zachary because she thought he “acted gay.” In March, an African American Lesbian couple— Crystal Jackson and Britney Cosby—were found dead in a dumpster in Galveston, Texas. Crystal was shot and Britney was bludgeoned to death by Britney’s father, who did not approve of his daughter’s sexuality.  And last year, also in Oregon, Jadin Bell—a 15-year-old—died after hanging himself as a reaction to homophobic bullying. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Gender Non-Conforming, and Queer people of color are particularly targeted by such acts of violence. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, over 73% of all victims of anti-LGBTQ murders in 2012 were people of color. Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming people are over three times as likely to experience police violence than non-Trans people, and Trans/Gender Non-Conforming people of color are 2.59% more likely to experience police violence than white non-Trans people.These are not abstract numbers: these are our friends, our children, our parents, our sisters, our brothers, our partners.

Words matter. They have the power to cause real harm to real people. They create a culture in which violence is normalized and systemic oppression against people is allowed to continue. They affect every last one of us and they tear at the community that we are all responsible for nourishing. As faculty of the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at Oregon State University, we oppose homophobic and transphobic violence, in both words and actions, and reaffirm our commitment to ending homophobia, transphobia, and gender violence, along with all forms of oppression. Our work is in solidarity with movements, both on and off campus, to transform our world and bring such forms of violence to a halt.

The names of our LGBTQ dead are too numerous to list here. And there are far more whose names we don’t know. But we call on the entire OSU community to remember those we have lost through homophobic and transphobic violence and to work in solidarity with LGBTQ communities and movements working for deep and lasting social change. With the ASOSU elections underway, we also call on the OSU community to seriously consider the type of student leadership that will serve ALL OSU students, with dignity and respect for our many differences.

In memoriam: Gwen Araujo, Jadin Bell, Mark Carson, Britney Cosby,  Zachary Dutro-Boggess, Steen Fenrich, Billy Jack Gaither, Sakia Gunn, Crystal Jackson, Marsha P. Johnson, Larry King, F.C. Martinez Jr, Islan Nettles, Matthew Shepard, Brandon Teena, Angie Zapata.

In Struggle,

Dr. Bradley Boovy

Assistant Professor

Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

World Languages and Cultures

Dr. Liddy Detar


Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

Dr. Qwo-Li Driskill

Assistant Professor

Queer Studies Advisor

Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies  

Dr. Patti Duncan

Associate Professor and Coordinator

Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

Michael Floyd


Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

Kryn Freehling-Burton


Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

Dr. Janet Lee


Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

Dr. Ron Mize

Associate Professor

Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Ethnic Studies

Director of CL@SE

Dr. Nana Osei-Kofi

Associate Professor

Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

Director of the Difference, Power, and Discrimination Program

Leonora Rianda

Office Manager

Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Ethnic Studies

Dr. Susan Shaw


Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and

Director of the School of Language, Culture, and Society

Dr. Lily Sheehan

Assistant Professor

English and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

Dr. Mehra Shirazi

Assistant Professor

Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

Enculturation in Context

These are the week 2 prompts, and my responses to them, for my Social Development class (Psychology 456). This stuff gets a little personal, but it was worth writing and is hopefully worth reading.

**Think about your own personality characteristics and behavior patterns. Now think of your parents. What are some similarities between you and them? Which of these do you think might have been inherited? Which do you think you learned as a child?

My parents and I share very few personality traits. The few similarities are mostly a result of environment rather than genetic inheritance of behavioral markers — I like to read, but that’s partially because it was one of my only options in some situations growing up. I like computers, but I’ve had one around for my own use since I was four, and my dad works with technology manufacturing more than he actually uses it. I eclipsed his technology skills by fifth grade. Both of my parents exhibit narcissistic personality patterns, something I unfortunately wasn’t able to define and react to until I had moved out. I actually work very hard to try and not repeat or maintain what I see to be their mistakes and character flaws. One of the most important things that I’ve learned is that regardless of the situation, focusing solely on myself will actually lead to unfavorable results.

**What evidence of shared and nonshared environmental influences do you see in your and your siblings’ personality characteristics or behavior?

My brother and I are both very competitive, and I attribute this to our parents’ behavior — they have never stopped pushing us to do certain things, often setting unrealistic goals and trying to live out their own ideas or fantasies through our lives and actions. As I’m the older sibling, I bore the emotional burden of this for most of the time. It affected my investment in school negatively due to overwhelming pressure until around high school, by which time I had learned to cope with it. Thankfully, my brother only had to handle “regular” problems and was able to thrive without the enhanced scrutiny. He became popular, played sports, and focused on more “traditional” behavior which also helped him win their favor when it finally was time for him to meet the pressure. All the better for him, I hope he turns out great. The disparity in discipline combined with his cash flow from caddying since he was 13 has led to some of the narcissistic tendencies that my parents have as well as a general lack of passion for any particular field. If you ask him what he wants to do with his life, his answer amounts to “make money”. I’ve been trying to counterbalance that with some exercises in worldly experience for him.

**Give an example of passive genotype/environmental influence in your own development.

As mentioned above, my parents pushed pretty hard for certain things. One of those was athletics. They had me start lacrosse in middle school where I played goalie because I have exercise-induced asthma, and I played for two years. I missed tryouts my freshman year because my parents forgot (ironically), but sophomore year I went from backup JV to Varisty and lettered as well as receiving the Coach’s Recognition Award. I used the job I got bussing the next year after that as an excuse not to play again, also noting that I had proved I could be good at something if I wanted to but the social and physical environments that the team created were really troubling for me. Kids in high school are mean, and as a kid with more interest in computers than drinking I was an easy target. My dad was in the Navy for 37 years which likely was a function of his athletic genotype and led him to want to create that environment as well, synthesized with the ever-present competitive energy.

**Give an example of evocative genotype/environmental influence in your own development.

My focus on technology certainly elicited certain kinds of responses. I was born in ‘93 and have thus essentially grown up during the golden age of gaming and computers. I switched schools every 3 or 4 years so making solid friendships “in real life” was hard, and my parents weren’t willing to facilitate maintaining the ones I had developed prior to each move. The internet was an attractive venture, it offered a wealth of information where I could learn about whatever I wanted and meet people from all around the world. Unlike those earlier school friends, I’ve kept contact and strong bonds with some of my “digital” friends for more than 10 years. Half my life, wild to think about. The nonconformist nature of my pursuits attracted a wealth of reactions from the people in my physical proximity, and they tried to diagnose me (unsuccessfully) with all kinds of behavioral problems. What they saw as undesirable behavior created a negative response, but the joke’s on them - I got a job doing it. :)

**Give an example of active genotype/environmental influence in your own development.

The degree to which the environments I’ve sought are due to my genotype or experiences I’m not sure, but my self-perception and reactions to what I saw as morally problematic behavior certainly affected it to some degree. I’m glad that most of my development has been reactive rather than passive - I don’t think I would like the kind of my person that I was always pushed to try and be. I don’t identify very strongly with my family and I’m alright with that. The niches I’ve picked have helped me develop according to my own terms and be my own person, and that is something I quite like. There’s certainly some truth to our tendencies to select certain niches, but the idea that this is a purely genetic concept is, I think, a wrong one. It obviously will have some genetic influence, but most of the ways we make decisions about things are based on our identity, which is very much a result of genetic factors in their environmental context. That would represent a more accurate description of active correlations.

Barely Conscious

For the online classes I’m taking this term, I’ve challenged myself to do some significant chunks of writing in hopes that others might do the same. Or, more importantly, that I might learn something about myself as part of the reflections rather than just doing them for the points.

These are the prompts, and my responses to those prompts, for week 2 in my Consciousness class (Psychology 448). Enjoy.

1) Discuss the variability of experience. Compare and contrast the quality of your own experiences under different conditions (internal conditions like drowsiness or external conditions like being in a crowd).

Intentionally put yourself in situations to explore the differences in experience. (e.g., how is the quality of your experience different after walking alone in the woods for an hour as compared to surfing the internet for an hour, or socializing for an hour, or ….?) Really spend some effort attempting to articulate these experiences in the written word.

1. I think one interesting comparison of experiences (that I’ve joked about to friends before) is that being sick is like being drunk without any of the fun parts. You get tired, lose energy to do things, and after a while you get a headache and just don’t want to move at all. Your ability generally amounts to sitting, watching TV, trying to contain yourself. Just being tired is a similar sort of thing, but with the added benefit of desiring and being more easily able to achieve sleep, and having that sleep (almost always) fix the problem. The variable nature of awareness and existing within these different states is its own interesting phenomenon.

Side note and fun fact, the study and philosophy of personal experiences is called ‘phenomenology’ - professors Clough and Leibowitz may have some relevant materials on it.

Drinking is a different sort of thing, though! We do it for fun - the state of ‘diminished capacity’ is something we eagerly anticipate. A release from the pressures of the world, not a succumbing to them. A truly powerful person is one who has the ability to relinquish their power, not exert it. Drinking is letting go, being drunk is having done so. There is something about the act, rather than the physical state of being, that changes the way we make decisions. Our judgment is assuredly impaired by the chemical reactions going on, but our knowledge that this is the sort of thing that happens when we drink may also lead us to make certain decisions in the face of it. It becomes a tool rather than a limitation. Thus the excuse of “drunk texting”, “drunk dialing”, all those sorts of things. I am at least partially within the group of those who drink for release - a good glass of scotch while watching Hannibal helps me surrender to the experience, release my built up stress, and enjoy the spirit of the moment… all done only at home with parental approval because I’m not 21 yet and that would otherwise be illegal, of course. Cough.

But what about coffee and caffeine, adrenaline and excitement? When you chug that energy drink or overcome some momentous challenge, you get a surge of renewed vigor. Awareness heightens, reactions become more fluid and intuitive. What is that like? How does it happen? Again there are some chemical reactions that we attribute, but there is a definite affect on the way we think about and perceive things for the duration. We also don’t usually notice the diminishing of this heightened state until some time after it’s fully gone, the suddent realization of which might leave us feeling less than we originally were. Always trying to ride that wave. I confess that I have written about drinking both alcohol and coffee because I quite like both, and for opposite reasons. One is a game of release, one is a game of intensity. Both are about control.

2) Do something significant you that have never done before. What is the experience like?

2. This week I had coffee with a friend at Dutch Bros for the first time. This may seem silly, but it was significant to me for two reasons.

Firstly, prior to this I hadn’t been to Dutch Bros. I realize that for some of you this might sound like heresy, but it’s just never been my thing. I like coffee well enough, but my observed experience with Dutch Bros is that they hire attractive people and foster a kind of environment that is about the experience of lust more than the actual coffee. True to suspicion, my drink was way sweeter than the same order from Starbucks and I didn’t get nearly the same caffeine effect from it. It wasn’t bad, just different, and in my opinion not really worth the price. The coffee at Dutch Bros is not the reason that people seem to go. Rather, the blasting pop/rock, attractive/flirtatious baristas, and ‘cool’ attitude of the patrons told me much more about the shop than the coffee did. This may be, for some, an attractive environment. You get to practice your ‘coolness’ and serve as an example for others to do the same, what’s not to like? This may seem harshly pragmatic, but I like my coffee strong and my conversation audible. I’m sure that all the people so interested in Dutch Bros have good reasons for being as such, and that they’re all people I would enjoy carrying conversation with, but not at Dutch Bros. I have a sense that just as it does over time, within each interaction our context shapes it. I didn’t feel quite myself while I was there, focusing both on the music (again, way too loud) and the people moving in and out.

Secondly, it was with a girl! I haven’t ever actually had a coffee date before this. I know, again, this sounds weird and impossible to many of you, but I assure you it’s the truth. It’s just not a thing that I’ve done before. I guess it might not really be considered a date because she wanted to buy me coffee to thank me for lending her an old phone while hers was broken, but we sat and talked about things for about an hour and it was a great time. I caught myself going on auto-pilot a few times, and every time I noticed it I tried to focus again and keep focus on her and the conversation. I liked it mostly for the conversation - a lot of daily interactions are limited to social scripts. Longer conversations let us break those boundaries, for better or for worse.

3) Who is doing the experiencing in all these cases? Explain a little bit about who you believe is at the center, doing the experiencing. Is that a material or immaterial being? Who and what are you (as the experiencer)? (Yep, I really mean it…give that one a try)

3. More thoughts of the Cartesian persuasion. As before, I am not a mind-body dualist - I see myself as a material body, and the mind is what the brain does. It’s fully apparent to me that the brain named itself and that I am ultimately a collection of atoms contemplating the nature of their existence and place within the universe due to their specific arrangement. Hard to think about for too long, but pretty cool.

I broke 1000 words just now so I think I’ll leave it at that. :)

Cosmic Slop - Space Traders

Hosted by George Clinton, this is the story of the Space Traders by Derrick Bell. As part of his efforts to use sci-fi literature for Critical Race Theory, it provides a provocative utopian/dystopian narrative. One of my professors uses it in a few different classes - check it out and feel free to let me know what you think.

Part 2

Part 3

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