Eldon's Column

By Eldon Brown
January 1996

Since this is my first contribution to Oasis, introductions are in order. I am a 20-year-old native of Peoria, Illinois. Currently, I am a senior at Western Illinois University majoring in Law Enforcement and Justice Administration.

I am the president of BGLFA (Bisexuals, Gays, Lesbians, and Friends Association) here at WIU. I also work for Student Residential Programs, our housing department, as a computer support technician. My involvement includes serving on numerous university councils and committees and being a member of several student organizations and student orientation teams.

This fall I made history by being chosen as the first openly gay member of the Homecoming Royalty Court, sponsored by BGLFA. For someone at a larger university this may not seem like much of an accomplishment. But in Macomb, a town whose citizens demanded that the red-ribbon stamps be removed from the local post office, it raised quite a few eyebrows.

This isn't intended to be my resume, but a lot of who I am today has been shaped by my involvement at WIU. My experiences here have helped to shape not only my personality and attitudes as a student, but also as a gay man. As you will undoubtedly discover, many "revelations" or opinions about myself and the gay community are based on my observations and experiences on this campus.

I came out during my freshman year, the fall of 1992. The past three years have defined virtually my entire identity. When I think about my adult life and what has helped to define who I am today, my memories are almost exclusively from these three vital years. At times it seems like only yesterday I was trembling with fear as tears rolled down my face and I came out to one of my closest friends. Other times I feel like I have been around forever, far too long, facing the oppression and obstacles of living as a gay man in a conservative town.

As I thought about what I would write in my first column, I asked myself: "What do I have to offer the queer youth of today?" I asked myself that question several times when I suddenly realized that for some reason I was separating myself from this idea of "gay youth." I am 20 years old. Even if I don't fall into the category of youth as traditionally defined, am I so old that the issues and experiences that I face now can't be considered "young" issues?

Presiding over the only student organization for gay, lesbian, and bisexual students carries with it a certain stigma. I am not just a gay student on this campus, at times I am THE gay student on campus. I jokingly refer to myself as the "posterboy for homosexuality." Being very active, whether as president of BGLFA or merely a student leader, I often feel like the sole representative of the gay, lesbian, and bisexual students on this campus. When I sit in the cafeteria enjoying a relaxing meal, I am THE gay student. When I speak to a human sexuality class about homosexuality and bisexuality, I am THE gay student. Even when I am simply walking from one class to another, everything I say or do is interpreted as the official voice and action of the gay, lesbian, and bisexual community.

While I'm not angry or upset about my situation, there are certainly times I feel I am forced to always promote this idea of the perfect homosexual, but I don't resent it. It is part of the commitment that I have made to the gay, lesbian, and bisexual community. This responsibility to uphold a positive and non-threatening image, however, does make me feel like I have aged considerably.

My actions and involvements in the "cause" on this campus have forced me to make sacrifices. I originally thought my youth was one of those sacrifices. I defined youth as naiveté and innocence, self-discovery and personal revelation. I thought that being young meant reckless, care-free exploration of the world. In order to make progress as a gay student activist, I am not allowed to be naive or innocent -- I must be a realist. I must be tough, willing to take criticism, and know who my allies are when I need them. Blissful ignorance on my part simply allows others to manipulate or intimidate me. The fight for gay, lesbian, and bisexual equality is not a war, but a thick skin and realistic approach are necessary in order to make progress.

That mode of thinking didn't fit my idea of "youth." But today there are all types of queer youth. Some are naive and innocent. Others are not. Youth is an attitude. Youth is the ability to look at a problem, no matter how large, and say "I can make a difference." Youth is having faith in the power to make things happen.

I may not be as naive or innocent as I once was. I have many "adult" responsibilities and roles as a student leader, and as a gay man. But I also have a vision. I have a drive and determination to change the world around me. Because I have that attitude -- that spirit -- I am still young.

So I will write this column about me and my experiences. I will write about where I have been, who I am today, and where I hope my future takes me. I hope to not only gain some personal insight but to share that insight with queer youth of all ages.

Eldon Brown is a 20-year-old student at Western Illinois University, where he majors in Law Enforcement and Justice Administration. He can be reached at muecb@uxa.ecn.bgu.edu. He also has his own homepage.
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