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Nathan Nye   April  2,  2011    

Britney Spears  and  the  Fight  for  Visiblity  

Durham—Four years  ago,  the  last  place  senior  Chris  Perry  would  be  was  the   Duke  LGBT  center.      

He had  grown  up  in  a  liberal  household,  had  been  openly  gay  since  high  

school and  didn’t  really  think  it  was  a  big  deal.   “I  didn’t  really  identify  strongly  as  gay,”  said  Perry.  “I  had  a  lot  of  stigma   about  those  who  did  have  it  high  on  their  identifier  list.  I  thought  they  were  vapid.   Obviously  all  they  talked  about  there  was  Britney  Spears  in  my  mind.”      

The next  year,  that  perception  changed  for  the  Long  Island  native.  

“This is  embarrassing,  but  there  was  this  guy,”  he  said.  “He  was  a  friend  of  a  

friend and  I  knew  he  would  be  at  an  event,  so  I  went.    I  was  really  nervous,  but  I   ended  up  meeting  everyone  at  the  Center  and  they  were  so  nice  to  me.”  He  paused   and  chuckled  before  continuing,  “I  never  did  meet  the  guy  though.”    

Flash-­‐forward to  April  22  where  Perry  participated  in  the  LGBT  Center’s  

Lavender Graduation,  between  his  first  visit  to  the  Center  to  his  graduation  he  has   been  a  student  intern,  been  their  blog’s  editor-­‐in-­‐chief  and  served  as  the   communications  chair  of  their  student  group.  He  started  his  Duke  career  as  a  civil   engineer,  but  now  plans  to  go  into  advocacy  work  for  LGBT  youth.   While  Perry’s  romantic  intentions  weren’t  fulfilled  on  that  first  foray  into  the   Center,  he  said  he  found  something  much  more  valuable—a  community  and  a   purpose.        

The Beginnings   Underneath  the  bustling  plaza  and  Loop  Pizza  Grill  lies  an  area  that  only  a   fraction  of  the  student  body  will  ever  explore.  The  Duke  Center  for  LGBT  Life  first   opened  its  heavy  wooden  doors  in  1994  with  the  mission  to  provide  education,   advocacy,  support,  mentoring,  academic  engagement  and  space  for  LGBT  students.   Then  it  occupied  half  the  space  it  currently  does  and  according  to  current  Center   Director,  Dr.  Janie  Long  it  fulfilled  its  mission  much  differently.     “The  early  years  were  nothing  like  what  we  have  now;  they  were  slow,”  said   Long.     When  she  first  arrived  at  the  Center  in  2004  programming  was  not  broadly   attended  or  even  well  known  Long  said.     “There  were  four  students  who  pretty  much  lived  in  the  Center  and  that  was   it,”  she  said.     Long  thought  it  was  time  to  change  that.   “The  space  was  dark  and  not  well-­‐utilized  so  I  changed  that  first,”  she  said.  “I   worked  with  the  students  who  were  already  here  and  convinced  them  we  needed  to   open  the  Center  up  and  I  started  reaching  out  to  other  students.”   For  instance,  for  National  Coming  Out  Day,  Long  wanted  to  have  that  year’s   event  on  the  Bryan  Center  Plaza.  The  idea  was  met  with  resistance.   “They’d  have  thought  burning  me  at  the  stake  was  a  good  idea  when  I   suggested  it,”  said  Long.    

Eventually she  did  bring  that  event,  and  many  others,  into  the  public  sphere   at  Duke  and  this  is  why  she  believes  the  Center  has  grown  exponentially.   “We  had  40  seniors  at  Lavender  Graduation,”  she  said.  “That’s  the  biggest  yet   and  it’s  indicative  of  the  overall  growth  we’ve  experienced.  Our  limits  before  were   not  having  students  and  now  it’s  not  having  space.”     A  Student  Affair    

The LGBT  Center  is  a  division  of  Student  Affairs,  but  concurrent  to  that  

structure is  Blue  Devils  United,  the  LGBTQ-­‐straight  ally  student  organization.      

“We are  the  student  voice  for  LGBT  issues  on  campus,”  said  BDU  president  

Ollie Wilson.    

BDU’s mission  can  be  summed  up  as  providing  social  and  activist  outlets  for  

LGBTQSA students  Wilson  said.      

“We create  community  and  advocate  for  students’  rights  on  and  off  campus,”  

said BDU  Blog  Editor  Risa  Isard.        

Isard does  this  by  overseeing  what  she  calls  the  organization’s  most  public  

face. The  blog  is  a  series  of  columns  by  Duke  students  and  anonymous  posts   solicited  from  the  Duke  community.      

Perry was  the  first  editor  of  the  blog  and  he  watched  it  grow  from  10  writers  

with few  visits  to  a  much  larger  entity.  There  are  now  40  writers  and  it's  been   visited  by  upwards  of  177  countries  and  all  50  states  Perry  said.    

“I used  to  read  the  blog  before  coming  to  campus,”  said  freshman  Matt  

Barnett. “It  was  my  introduction  to  LGBT  life  at  Duke.”  

Barnett, who  is  the  incoming  communications  chair  for  BDU,  doesn’t  think  

the organization  is  doing  enough  though.      

“We’re doing  great  things,  but  I  want  to  do  more,”  he  said.  “We  need  to  create  

more community.  We  need  to  reach  more  folks.”       Problems  Within  and  Without    

Some who  openly  identify  as  gay  don’t  want  to  be  reached  though.    

“I think  the  Center  is  just  a  barrier  to  assimilation  for  the  LGBT,”  said  

sophomore Rob  Valdovinos.  “I’m  just  a  Duke  student,  why  would  my  sexuality   matter?  I  gave  it  a  chance,  but  I  realized  that  I  was  just  making  more  problems  for   myself  by  going  there.”    

Valdovinos said  that  he  and  many  of  his  friends  think  that  frequenting  the  

LGBT Center  only  emphasizes  difference  rather  than  claiming  equality.        

Those aren’t  the  only  negative  feelings  though.  Isard  characterized  a  divide  in  

the LGBT  community  differently.    

“There’s an  in-­‐crowd  and  an  out-­‐crowd,”  said  Isard.  “Some  people  feel  

welcome and  others  feel  ostracized.”    

As Barnett  said,  “It’s  almost  like  gay  Mean  Girls;  lots  of  petty  high  school  


The social  divide,  regardless  of  cause,  is  felt  throughout  the  LGBT  community  

said Perry.      

“While I’m  involved  and  feel  at  home,  I  know  there  are  those  who  aren’t  

involved either  because  they  don’t  want  to  be  or  because  they  feel  they  can’t,”  he  

said. “The  first  reason  is  fine,  but  the  second  is  a  problem.  If  people  want  to  be   involved  but  don’t  think  they  can  be,  then  that’s  an  issue.”    

Isard had  a  more  blunt  take.  

“All gay  people  don’t  need  to  be  friends,  that’s  stupid,”  she  said.  

Another issue  pointed  out  by  Isard  pointed  out  was  the  marginalization  felt  

by those  who  were  not  male.  Lesbians,  queer  women  and  transgender  people  feel   that  the  Center  and  BDU  address  gay  men  more  than  them  said  Isard.      

Long said  the  Center’s  budget  and  resources  were  a  difficulty  in  maneuvering  

around those  issues.    

“In addition,  women  have  a  much  harder  time  openly  identifying  as  gay  than  

men on  this  campus,  so  men  tend  to  be  predominant,”  Long  said.  She  believes  there   is  social  pressure  that  doesn’t  allow  women  the  same  ability  to  be  openly  gay  as  men   have.      

Others believe  the  divide  is  more  intrinsic  than  that.  

“It’s been  better  recently,  but  at  times  there  was  a  huge  schism  between  the  

social circles  of  women  and  men  at  the  Center,”  said  Perry.  “I  remember  some  of  the   guys  would  say  some  offensive  things  about  the  women,  but  it’s  getting  better.  Still   though,  at  the  women-­‐only  discussion  group  there  might  be  40  women,  but  you   might  see  a  quarter  at  a  general  event.”    


Over the  Rainbow    

Moving forward  Long  believes  the  Center  faces  many  challenges,  particularly  

development at  Duke.    

“The West  Union  is  being  renovated  and  it  looks  like  we  might  be  moved,”  

Long said.  “When  Few  was  renovated  the  Women’s  Center  was  moved  to  Central   Campus  and  they  pretty  much  died.  They  had  to  start  over  once  they  got  back  to   West.  That’s  my  worst  fear.”    

Barnett believes  that  an  organization  like  the  LGBT  Center  might  eventually  

deal with  legal  barriers.      

“In Texas,  there’s  a  piece  of  legislation  that  would  force  university’s  to  also  

have complimentary  centers  for  all  existing  identity  centers,  like,  if  there’s  a   women’s  center,  there  must  also  be  a  men’s  center,”  he  said.  “I  think  a  straight   center  sounds  absurd.”    

Sophomore Luke  Shuffield,  a  Texas  native,  thinks  it  makes  good  sense  


“The bill  is  being  used  as  a  way  to  get  rid  of  LGBT  centers,  and  I  don’t  really  

have an  opinion  there,  but  it’s  about  fairness,”  he  said.  “If  we’re  going  to  cater  to  one   group,  we  should  cater  to  them  all.”    

A bill  of  this  type  has  not  been  discussed  in  North  Carolina  as  of  now.  

Finally, some  want  to  see  the  LGBT  community  become  more  heavily  

involved in  activism.  Perry  is  worried  that  student’s  are  becoming  complacent.      

“The exec  board  of  BDU  wanted  to  host  a  club  this  year,  and  that’s  just  odd  to  

me,” he  said.  “I  fear  if  we  keep  going  in  this  direction  the  Center  will  become  how  I   feared  it  was  as  a  freshman,  a  place  to  just  talk  about  Britney  Spears.”    


Britney Spears and The Fight for Visibility  

Magazine piece by Nathan Nye chronicleing Duke's LGBT Center's recent history. 2011.

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