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Column: Coming out to debate homosexuality

Much of the campus discourse about sexual minority issues is meant to provoke. Such discourse is heating up again as this year's Coming Out Week sparks conversation and spurs new controversy about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues. Certainly there is talk concerning gay stereotypes, funding for the LGBT groups, the "gay lifestyle" and gay politics. Unfortunately, most of this discussion calls forth an emotional response rather than an intellectual debate on issues of sexuality at Duke and in general.

Sure, there are plenty of arguments against homosexuality. Religion, morals, natural law and general disgust might all provide a starting point to discuss anything gay. However, the sort of vague and confrontational attacks that are often made among Duke students are not going to spark productive, edifying conversation for anyone.

I will not give in to mud-slinging tactics and rant haphazardly about my supposed disdain for campus conservatives and/or homophobes. I have complete faith in cogent, one-on-one discussion to enlighten, as pollyannaish as this might seem to some skeptics. I invite the radical queers, the gay-haters, the closeted lesbians and the indifferent Dukies to engage in this discussion inclusively and all students to reflect on their personal opinions, prejudice and agendas regarding all things gay. If Duke truly prides itself on the free exchange of diverse thought, then this discussion is long overdue.

I admit that the last thing anyone wants to read is a sermon promoting the crossing of boundaries and the broadening of one's horizons. So, let's get down to business with real examples. Last year, I was scared to death of a particular fraternity. I was forced into its depths when I dated a brother in the frat. Things were a bit awkward at first. Mid-semester, I was invited to the frat's semi-formal. Lo and behold, my then-boyfriend and I had a fabulous time.

As the year went on, the fraternity grew accustomed to my presence, and soon I felt welcome as an openly gay man with nothing to hide. Many of the frat brothers are traditionally conservative on some issues, but now this issue of sexuality has been divorced from their conservative ideologies. At the same time, I have learned a great deal in my interactions with the fraternity and am no longer as quick to dismiss conservative viewpoints (or fraternities) because of their influence. Of course, this is just a start.

A few days ago, I had an interesting and honest discussion with someone whose views on sexuality are completely antithetical to mine. This exchange is just another example of what can be gained through meaningful interaction and conversation. I had an incredibly difficult time finding an appropriate topic for this week's column in light of Coming Out Week and recent remarks in The Chronicle. Had I not had such a candid dialogue, it would have been easier to lash out, blindly decrying all things homophobic. This discussion forced me to think twice on a suitable and lucid commentary about this week's events.

Whether students choose to engage in thoughtful conversation over this controversy is out of my control. I hope this week serves as a practical lesson to everyone, regardless of sexual orientation. No matter the issue, we must strive to honestly understand our opposing interlocutor's perspective. It is easy to make ad hominem or ill-defined arguments tainting the debate on controversial issues of sexuality. I, myself, will occasionally use these tactics without considering their outcomes.

I challenge all to keep this discussion on intellectual and productive terms by elevating sexuality to the analytic category in which it rightly falls. Anything less is unacceptable at a great university. Remember that the criterion for success is not the number of people changing sides on an issue, but rather the number of people who make the intellectual effort to understand all sides.


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