Kaitlyn “KayKay” Gutierrez and her girlfriend Marina Miller often walk around Sam Houston State University holding hands. As a lesbian couple, they say they get the occasional gawking and “weird” look from passersby.
To them, that’s not surprising, considering SHSU’s geopolitical location in the Deep South. But unlike some areas where students may get vocally and physically abused from their peers, they say SHSU is generally an accepting environment.
“I wear the ‘Legalize Gay’ shirts everywhere, and I’ve never had a problem,” Miller, a junior dance major, said. “On the way (to the interview) I was clinging on to her because it was so cold. We’ve had some funky looks, but we glare at them and they go away.”
Miller describes herself as a “fem” lesbian, or one who dresses in a way that most people would imagine women to dress as. Gutierrez, on the other hand, said she is the more stereotypical lesbian, dressing in more masculine clothing and has several facial piercings and gauges.
“I get kind of offended when people assume I’m not gay,” Gutierrez said. “I’ve had a few people say, ‘You’re gay?’ I’m like, ‘Come on. Open your eyes.'”
One of the stereotypes they said could be unfair is the typical “lesbian look.” Miller said her family was surprised she was a lesbian because of her appearance but weren’t accepting of her. Gutierrez said her family was the exact opposite.
Gutierrez said her family was totally accepting of Miller.
“I’ve never seen my mom, literally, tackle someone with a hug (except for Miller),” she said. “She welcomed her, literally, with open arms.”
The student body generally does too, Gutierrez said. Aside from the occasional look, the only major issue she’s had is with male professors.
“Often, they’ll accidently call me a man,” she said. “I’ll go up after class to correct them and say, ‘I’m actually a girl.’ One of my professors said, ‘So you like girls?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He actually said he was going to refer to me as a man.”
Gutierrez said the professor called her “sir” and other masculine titles throughout the rest of the semester.
Their peers, they said, rarely have issues aside from isolated incidents. But the incidents, Gutierrez said, can be disheartening. One instance occurred in the education department when two student workers refused to let Gutierrez, a junior education major, make free copies offered to education majors.
“The worker wouldn’t let me make copies because she didn’t believe I was an education major,” she said referring to her appearance. “But most of the education teachers are great. I went and told one and they took care of the issue and fired the workers like that.”
Miller and Gutierrez said there is a different way they are treated compared to gay men.
“My gay friends have more of a problem with it,” Miller said. “Some of my friends that are couples will kiss each other goodbye on their way to class and people will nearly drop their bag because they’ll double-take at them. It just seems like people freak out when they see two guys kissing than when they see two girls kiss.”
Junior psychology major Timmy Child, who is a gay member of SHSU’s ROTC, agreed with their assessment. He said he’s comfortable being open about his sexuality in general on campus.
“People are okay with two girls walking by holding hands, but not two dudes holding hands,” Child said. “I’m not big into PDA to begin with, but I’ve noticed that.”
In a study conducted by The Houstonian, 50 percent of gay and lesbian students said the university community doesn’t appreciate the differences in sexual orientation. That’s compared to 21 percent of bisexual respondents and six percent of heterosexual respondents who answered similarly.
In addition, 72 percent of gay and lesbian students and 32 percent of bisexual students said they have experienced harassment based on their sexual orientation.
The university has taken steps to improve their acceptance of different sexual orientations, according to Assistant Vice President of Human Resources and Risk Management David Hammonds. Last year the university expanded their protective classes to include LGBT identifying individuals.
Students and faculty also have the opportunity to attend sexual orientation awareness training through a program called HAVEN. The training allows them to be certified to offer a HAVEN location that signifies a safe place to speak about LGBT issues.
“Except for those few instances,” Gutierrez says may be the reasons students feel uncomfortable, “I feel accepted. Once you open yourself up and get out of those gray areas and try the waters, it’s accepting.”
For the future, Miller says she’s hopeful.
“The incoming freshman seem really open,” she said. “A lot of the freshman are really friendly and say, ‘I don’t care what you are.'”