LGBT at Work: Alumni Panel on Campus Life and Careers

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I participated in a panel discussion on sexuality and career issues held earlier this week at the Multicultural House, sponsored by the Dean of Students Office and the Center for Career Development.

left to right: Andrew Spainhour ’93, Brad Johnson ’94, John Syme ’85, Heather McKee ’87 (photo: Shea Parikh ’16)

First, a nice dinner at Brickhouse Tavern with fellow out gay and lesbian panelists Andrew Spainhour ’93, Brad Johnson ’94, Heather McKee ’87 and organizers Becca Taylor ’06 from Dean of Students and Jamie Johnson from Careers.

Later, some dozen or so students sprawled on the couches of the Multicultural House while we four panelists perched on stools up front. We told what campus gay life (or the lack thereof) was like back in the day, how that felt then, and how it feels now to be talking with students openly questioning issues of sexuality rather than questioning (or not) secrets (closed or open) as in days of yore.

Each panelist talked about how issues around sexuality had played out in our early careers and choices, and our current ones. And we answered sharp questions from sharp students, about tokenization, social relations and legislation; about closets and pronouns and dreams.

“In light of Amendment One, do you feel like people should leave North Carolina?” one student asked, putting a fine point on a broad-ranging conversation about North Carolina politics.

“I think the only way to win is to stay and fight,” Heather serenely concluded after a a full and thoughtful response. (Happy side note: Heather married her classmate, U.S. Navy Capt. Jane Campbell ’87, on a Pearl Harbor Day visit to Hawaii in December!)

Have you ever considered, asked another student, going back into the closet for a career choice?

“I would never dream of going back to a place where I would have to hide,” said Andrew. Brad added a pithy note that the “pronoun game” many gay people used to play, and some still do, when talking about their personal lives at the office is, in a word, tedious. And disagreeable for any number of other reasons, we all agreed.

That said, I added that it’s never a mistake for anybody—gay, straight or in between—to err on the side of caution when sharing personal details in any professional setting. It’s a fine and shifting line to walk, between the world we  live in and the world we want to live in.

Bonus note: Becca offers for your consideration this current survey for LGBTQ alumni by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators. “While it’s not coming from Davidson directly,” she says, “the information gathered on this survey could be very useful to us in the future.”

 

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