Students in attendance for Purdue’s National Coming Out Day keynote were able to relate to the speaker’s focus on the struggles of being gay in the Bible Belt.
Thursday evening, Purdue’s Lesbian, Gay Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Center hosted the first speaker in its distinguished lecture series, which addresses the struggles of the LGBTQ community
The keynote speaker, Bernadette Barton, a professor of sociology and women’s studies at Morehead State University, spoke to attendees about her recently published book, “Pray The Gay Away: The Extraordinary Lives of Bible Belt Gays.” The product of roughly six years of research, and more than 50 interviews, the book examines the struggles faced by homosexuals in the Bible Belt.
“I wanted to explore what it means, essentially, to be what I call in the book a ‘Bible Belt gay,’” Barton said. “This is a group of people that are talked about, but seldom listened to.”
Barton lectured on a variety of the issues facing Bible Belt gays, examining the foundations of homophobia in the region as well as highlighting the burden it places on young homosexuals and the consequences it entails.
“On an individual level, we see gay people closeted, experiencing fear, shame, and self loathing, alienated from family,” Barton said.
Aiden Powell, a graduate student at Purdue, offered a more personal insight. Having studied as an undergraduate at Texas A&M, ranked this year by The Princeton Review as the least LGBT-friendly public university in the nation, Powell has confronted a number of the issues Barton outlined.
In particular, Powell points to the difficulty of coming out to his family.
“I came out to my parents over Thanksgiving in 2007,” Powell said. “I thought that things would be fine, but it was quite to the contrary.”
Powell said that after coming out, his family cut off financial support. Asked if he is still on good terms with his family, he shook his head.
“We’re taking a break right now,” Powell said. “You can only explain yourself so much.”
Lowell Kane, director of the LGBTQ Center at Purdue, is a fellow Texas A&M alumnus and met Powell in as an undergraduate. He previously directed the GLBT Center at Texas A&M and served as a resource to LGBTQ students for more than five years.
He said National Coming Out Day is important to show support for those who are afraid of the consequences of coming out.
“It takes an extreme amount of energy to live in the closet,” Kane said. “It’s a very toxic environment to be in.”
The LGBTQ Center will be hosting the second speaker in its lecture series on Nov. 29.