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Ernest Owens
The Ernest Opinion

Credit: Ernest Owens

As the Lambda Alliance kicks off its annual introductory member events this week to unite new and old LGBT students and their allies, one will hear at least once of that highly publicized Newsweek ranking.

Yes, again, as last year, Penn was ranked the number one best “gay-friendly” campus for our resources and mentors for LGBT students. Penn has come a long way in revolutionizing the University’s understanding and support for LGBT activism with such campus landmarks as the LGBT Center.

College senior Victor Galli, political chair for Lambda Alliance, wrote in an email that Penn’s “innovation and drive has pushed this campus beyond anything seen elsewhere.”

Although Penn is making significant strides, the fact that in 2011 our campus still emphasizes how “gay-friendly” it is seems very redundant and counterproductive to the entire movement. The constant emphasis on how “friendly” our campus is to LGBT students puts a spotlight on the group that almost seems as if its members are second-class citizens in need, rather than equal-opportunity students that were accepted to Penn just as their heterosexual peers were.

Regardless of how Penn President Amy Gutmann reminds us that “it gets better,” it only gets better if we get better. “Gay-friendliness” is another term synonymous with “gay tolerance,” which is not the same as “gay acceptance.” Yes, Quakers will most likely not commit a hate crime, as had been reported earlier this year at Swarthmore College, but that does not mean the social stigma does not still exist.

As an African American student on campus, I cannot ignore some of the homophobic remarks and stigmas that still exist in the minority populations. Athletes and members of the Greek system and athletic departments still show resistance to widely opening their doors to LGBT members. Many LGBT students on campus are hesitant to participate in certain clubs and organizations because they feel a sense of discomfort or non-acceptance, which is a sign that Penn is not as “friendly” as we might have assumed.

College senior Christopher Griffin, a member of Queer People of Color, said he has seen Penn’s LGBT community “blossom” over the years but still finds it necessary to remind those that “ignorance, heterosexism and prejudice still exist.”

Having great resources does not necessarily equate to a utopia of gay acceptance. It will never be perfect, but it can be better if some of the focus were shifted to increasing the strength of LGBT allies. They are the students who represent the majority of the population. They are the ones who actually hold the required power to make the necessary social changes.

Bob Schoenberg, director of the LGBT Center, although grateful and honored that Penn has received much published praise, still believes that “we all need to commit ourselves to work to deepen awareness, extend acceptance and advance policies and practices that further enhance the campus climate.”

This brings me back to that Newsweek ranking, which — in my opinion — is overrated and obsessed by our campus. Yes, I cannot ignore Penn’s infatuation with rankings, and this is just one ranking that really is not that extraordinary. On an ethical viewpoint, Penn is being ranked on how well we treat and accept students that pay tuition and work just as hard as anyone else.

On Locust Walk one day, someone yelled, “Yay, Penn is gay friendly!” and one thought went through my mind: “You damn right we ought to be!” It is pretty foolish that we constantly commend ourselves for doing something humane. It is almost as infuriating as it is ridiculous.

Penn attempts to ensure that LGBT students are treated with the upmost level of respect and dignity, as it should. The fact that it is singled out for giving this basic treatment looks as if LGBT students are of a different breed, which is not very becoming for an Ivy League institution. These almost common-sense methods of treatment of any student of any kind should be a given, not flaunted every year in speeches and headlines.

It is 2011. LGBT is not the new black. Imagine if Penn headlined such stories as “Penn is ranked the #1 Latino-Friendly Campus.” What would it say for African Americans, Asians, Muslims and other diverse groups?

While Penn prides itself on doing its job, students should reflect on themselves and live up to the hype. That is the only way we can be as “friendly” as the Quakers after whom we are named.

Ernest Owens is a College sophomore from Chicago, Ill. His email address is The Ernest Opinion appears every Friday.

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