By Jeff Walsh
On Oct. 10, a group of North Carolina State University students were painting notices supportive of National Coming Out Day in the university's Free Expression Tunnel. "It's a great day to come out" and similar messages being painted by gay student group members were meant to encourage people to disclose their sexual orientation in a friendly, supportive manner.
About 10 students came through the tunnel as the group was painting, according to Kevin, the co-chair of the gay student group. The group of seemingly-drunk students was quick to disclose both their sexual orientation - heterosexual -- and their dislike of anyone who didn't share that orientation.
"A couple of them had beer bottles and they were smearing their hands in the paint and just trying to intimidate us," said Kevin, who sent his co-chair to get the campus' public safety department. "Right when he left, they started yelling and threw a beer bottle down in the tunnel."
Kevin then went to call public safety to make sure they realized there was a problem.
"Once I had made the call, the guys had run off and public safety was on the way," Kevin said. "One of the guys who was in the original group then came back into the tunnel and he got into my face and started shouting things at me. Not very nice things. He basically threatened to hit me. He was just saying things like 'Why can't you just get with the system of one man, one woman? Why do you have to shove this in everyone's faces? He was having a definite problem with National Coming Out Day."
Kevin said he had hoped to either get the other student to leave quietly or to hang around until public safety arrived.
"When we thought he was going to leave, he turned around and pushed me with both fists into my chest and I flew back about four feet," Kevin said. "Some of our other members stepped in and kept him off me, and one of us convinced him that there were 17 of us and one of him, so he shouldn't be starting trouble. But I think that he was too drunk to know what was going on."
The student began to leave as public safety showed up. Kevin pointed him out to them, and they chased him down.
Public safety took the student in for questioning, according to NCSU's student newspaper. Kevin isn't allowed to discuss what happened on campus. But Kevin did take the case further.
"I pressed charges off campus. I had to file the charges at the magistrate's office for that. They put out a warrant for his arrest and came and got him in the middle of the night," Kevin said. Kevin was quoted in the student newspaper as saying he proceeded with the case to focus attention on anti-gay violence.
"I hope the message is sent. That type of violence will not be tolerated by the university or society," he told the student newspaper. "I'll remember this every time I speak out. It's a barrier to free speech for many, but it is one that must be overcome."
In North Carolina, this assault is not considered a hate crime. The North Carolina State University campus does have a non-discrimination police including sexual orientation in place, Kevin said, but it is only applicable to faculty and staff, and not yet to students.
But Kevin said the incident hasn't been a problem for him on campus. If people are talking about him behind his back, it isn't getting back to him.
"I haven't had any backlash because of it," he said.
'I was tired of being dishonest'
Kevin has been openly gay on campus for the past three years. He says the campus of nearly 30,000 can be supportive at times.
"It's supportive when you're in the right circles. Once I had found my niche in the student groups, I felt supported by them even though I was still living on campus and dorm life was hell," he said. "This environment is not supportive. It is not conducive to being openly gay or lesbian on campus."
College life was not what Kevin had imagined it would be back when he started accepting his sexuality.
"When I was 16, I realized exactly why I was different. It was very difficult growing up in western North Carolina realizing that you're different," said Kevin. "College was what I thought would be a big relief, and it was an out of the frying pan into the fire kind of deal. The environment was even worse. It was living in an entire hallway with every room having the equivalent of my parents in it, very judgmental people here in the Bible belt."
But eventually, Kevin found the strength to come out to his friends on campus.
"I was very unhappy, and I was tired of being dishonest with my friends and having parts of my life that I couldn't talk to them about because I was afraid of being rejected," he says. Kevin came out two of his best friends on National Coming Out Day during his sophomore year, 1993. He began attending the gay student group a few months later, not knowing anyone at the meeting.
"I was scared to death. I had no idea what to expect, but people were open and accepting and I made friends right off the bat," he says. "Two and a half months later, I ran for secretary and didn't really have to be out on campus, except when I felt like it."
He now serves on the group's speakers bureau, which lectures in classes about the definitions of homosexuality, sex and gender and the difference between orientation and behavior. The student group also sponsors a Blue Jeans Day in February, whereby everyone is asked to wear blue jeans that day to show their support of gay rights. There has been a backlash on campus against blue jeans day, Kevin said.
"Now, all the conservatives on campus do Shoe Day. If you support southern white males, you wear shoes that day," Kevin said. "It's not fun in the middle of February to be wearing no shoes."
'My God doesn't discriminate'
As is usually the case, coming out has been a long process for Kevin, which began when he was an introverted teen who wanted to kill himself between the ages of 14 and 16. He never attempted suicide, but thought about it a lot, he says. Eventually, he realized what was casing the problem in his life.
"I had feelings for a really close friend of mine and I had trouble for the longest time expressing what was going on in my friendship," he says. "I realized I was just totally in love with him. I guess that opened my eyes."
Kevin can't even draw comparisons between the person he is today and that troubled teen of a few years ago.
"I'm a totally different person. I just feel its totally integrated into my life. I wouldn't choose to be any other way but out," he says. "I used to worry about being accepted and rejected by my friends, but now I know the only true friends I have are the ones who accept me. Coming out has been almost all positive for me. There have been very few drawbacks, and I'm lucky. A lot of that has to do with my support system. I guess I chose the right friends."
His parents are also supportive of him.
"They're fine with it," he says. "They don't eat at Cracker Barrel anymore. We had a really, rough year over it, but they're really supportive."
As with many families, religion was the major obstacle in their ability to accept their own son. "My version of God is of totally loving accepting God, not judgmental, My God doesn't discriminate," he says. "I really have a hard time believing something I was born with would automatically predestine me to Hell."
Kevin had the additional bonus growing up not only in a part of the country where Jesse Helms consistently gets re-elected (although one can only hope this article will not be correct for most of the month), but also having to sort out his sexual identity when AIDS and gay were synonyms to a lot of people.
"In the 80s, when I was growing up and thinking about religion and such, and then AIDS hit the street. People were running around and mimicking everything Jesse had to say about it, saying 'AIDS is God's curse' or 'God's cure for homosexuality.' People don't think for themselves here."
Despite the flaws in their logic, it still made things rough growing up to think something you were born with could now also potentially kill you.
"It had me scared to death. I was scared just to be gay when I put it all together. I understood the contradiction in what my parents and other people were saying, but realizing that people had to face those kind of adversities from your parents made it that much harder," he says. "Now my parents realize they were just temporarily insane."
[Ed. Note: The name of the student who assaulted Kevin was reported in the student newspaper at NCSU. It was not reprinted here to discourage hateful e-mail to the student, because Oasis feels hateful mail is wrong, even if it is sent to an anti-gay person. We're here to win the war, not fan the flames. The last name of the subject of this profile was also removed in 2001.]