SAU Buzz

Education, Respect and Pronouns

by Ashlynn Maczko
Posted on Feb 02, 2018

DAVENPORT, Iowa—A woman stands behind the podium in the St. Ambrose ballroom. She is wearing a black long-sleeved shirt, a fuzzy vest, and has muted red lipstick painted on her lips.

“I asked myself, what’s the hardest part of being a transgender woman?” she said.

On Jan. 25 a group of about 30 students, faculty, and staff attended a presentation and discussion about Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender-Queer-Intersex-Allies’s mental healthcare rights.

The presentation titled “Pray the ex-gay away: the repercussions of conversion therapy” was led by St. Ambrose alum Ty Wakefield. Wakefield graduated in 2016 with a Master of Social Work and he currently works with The Project of the Quad Cities.

Wakefield discussed the history of conversion therapy—specifically how scientific, medical and political communities have interacted with LGBTQIA communities in the context of American history.

Homosexuality was considered a mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder until 1973 when it was replaced with the term “ego-dystonic homosexuality”. Under the new guidelines, homosexuality itself was not considered a mental disorder. However, if same-sex attraction caused any type of mental or physical distress then it was considered a mental disorder. This new term was removed in 1988, but diagnosis criteria still remains in the DSM under a range of titles, Wakefield said.

In the 1970’s, sodomy laws were aimed towards gay communities, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. As of 2003, 10 states still had active sodomy laws in place, which were officially invalidated by the Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence vs. Texas.

Despite the ruling in Lawrence vs. Texas and the increasing awareness surrounding LGBTQIA rights, conversion therapy is still legal in 41 states, Wakefield said. Illinois, Oregon, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Vermont, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Washington D.C. officially have laws against conversion therapy, but they only apply to licensed medical professionals.

“I did not know that there were that many states that still have not legally banned conversion therapy,” Marcy Boers, SAU student, said. “I thought that was insane.”

During his presentation, Wakefield showed a YouTube video titled “My years in conversion therapy and how I forgave my father,” in which a man named Matthew spoke of his experience with conversion therapy. This story spoke of attempts to convince Matthew that he was not gay along with the anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts that plagued his life during the years that therapists told him his identity was incorrect.

Alarming statistics and stories like Matthew’s were followed by discussions of what students can do to bring awareness into the conversation. Audience members shared ideas including speaking out, educating, rallying, contacting state representatives and sharing individual’s stories.

That is what Kerry Wells did. She stood up at the podium and shared her story of accepting the person she was born as.

“The hardest part is people taking you seriously,” Wells said in response to her earlier question.

Wells recounted how growing up, her family was accepting of her gender. She played sports and also played with dolls, and her family was approving of both. Despite her family’s acceptance, Wells still struggled with bullying, although she did not dwell on it. She said that she always fought back.

The thing she stressed the most, was getting pronouns right, which she admits that even her family still struggles with.

“Before I used to excuse it,” Wells said. “I knew they didn’t mean anything by it. But now, more than ever, you have to get the pronouns right.”

Wells highlights that one of the most important things people can do is to become educated on the topic. Being more educated means you’re less ignorant, she said.

At the end of the presentation and speech the audience took part in a discussion of why it is so important to be respectful and not deny people of their right to be their authentic self.

“Much of the research shows what helps people to better understand diversity and difference is when it is revealed before them and in the people in front of them,” said Tim Phillips, Dean of Students. “Hosting these opportunities that students will come to, and listen, and openly ask questions and try to understand things better is a unique opportunity.”