“My name is Tim Speek. There is no active student group [on campus] that deals with issues important to the gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, intersex students and their straight supporters. It is my hope that this group can be revived.”
When the mysterious Tim first surfaced and became known to The Prospector, he decided to send the above text, the gist of his 167 words, in an email to Professor Greg Kemble, late January. From there, the information dripped down the length of the administrative food chain and with a deafening splat, finally landed on my plate. When I forked the junk between my leery jaws, the taste soured with suspicion. First. why would Tim contact Greg Kemble, of all people, in order to start a club? You want to know about clubs, you go to Campus Life or at the very least, wander around in the main office asking people sitting behind desks until you’re pointed in the direction of Campus Life. Why Kemble? Did Tim realize that Prof. Kemble chaired the The Prospector staff as advisor? Another way to ask this question: was Tim looking for publicity? And if so, publicity for what? Instead of approaching this story the usual way, kindly thanking Tim for the tip and moving on to explore the lack of a “gay club” and the need of one, I thought it best to call for an interview in an effort to resolve my flaring skepticism.
Before I met him, I imagined Tim-the-curious-student as a shy dude, gay, maybe even flamboyantly gay. Apparently oblivious to the way things work here at Yuba College (I mean, what kind of Yuba student asks why we don’t have this or why we don’t have that? Seriously, the better half of us has grown accustomed to being deprived of a proper college-related social experience), I figured he must be a naive first-year, one with virgin dreams of grandeur before the grim reality of Yuba College’s almighty dullness loosens its anvil.
Tim-the-actual-Tim was quite the opposite. He was dressed like a politician on blue-jean Friday. There was nothing glamorous about him. None of the norm. No hip-huggers. No flashy accessories. No twinkish emo hair. No haute couture. No Fendi. No Prada. No lipstick. No faint protrusions of nipple rings through thin purple cotton.
Which goes a length to dispel my own stereotypes and maybe, mass illusions. And another thing… Tim was confident. Too confident. That is to say, too confident for a mere Curious George. Again I tasted something sour. Is it that Tim had an agenda? Was he hiding a folded list in the shirt pocket of his executive polo? And The Prospector, actually this exact encounter, was it simply a box to put a check mark through?
The Tim I welcome into the dim-lit journalism lab for a brief interview Tuesday afternoon in early February is 46 years old. Already having found his place in the world and set in his ways, before me was a mature man… in no way was he the bumbling freshman I had visualized. Tim is a nurse. He works at a local hospital (the name of which he has asked to remain confidential). He’s been a Yuba City resident for 3 years.
So I go ahead and ask Tim the obvious: Why’s it so important for Yuba College to have some kind of organization for LGBT students? And before I continue with that, let’s take a moment to address this acronym. LGBT is an all-inclusive way of describing the “gay community” or more accurately, a neat little method for OCD-ers to fit humanity’s diversity of sexual orientations into neat little categories. The 4 letters popularly stand for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders. But it’s high time to be aware, if you weren’t beforehand, that the list doesn’t end there. Try LGBTQIPHCS on for size. You might like to know that other letters are steadily being adopted by various organizations, adding Q for queers who are in the process of questioning their sexuality, I for intersexuals, individuals that could be clinically referred to as hermaphrodites or less explicitly, those human beings blessed with both male and female features, P for pansexuals, people who pointedly suggest that gender identification has absolutely nothing to do with who you find yourself attracted to, H for the HIV-affected and C for crossdressers. And although we’re already intimately aware of this particular preference, some even go the extra mile to add an S for straight folks. I suppose that last one is an act of compassion.
So why the need for a club of our own?
Well, for one, the high schools have it. According to a 2010 Sacratomatoville Post article, a River Valley High School sophomore named Onkar Singh endured bullying on account of being gay to the point where he was driven to take a stand. Hence, he founded River Valley High School’s Gay-Straight Alliance Club in 2009. Today, the club is still going strong and Singh assumes the role of club president. “It shows we’re concerned. It shows we’re together, that we will stand up against bullying,” states Singh. Yea, that’s a 16-year-old talking. And here we are, Yuba College, with nothing to match this kid’s dedication. So who sets the bar then?
“College is a time for coming out,” Tim explains. And he has a point. Although I don’t think it’s healthy to go your whole teen life trapped in the closet, traditionally, college is a time to be introspective. It’s a time to investigate what it means to be who you are, academically, professionally, spiritually, socially, recreationally and, of course, sexually.
It’s a time when you, generally speaking, find yourself away from your parents and the adolescently close-minded world of high school, and all the restrictions that go along with being in those situations… securing some degree of personal freedom. It’s that same freedom with which one would theoretically be ready to “come out.”
With this in mind, Tim insists that it’s essential for college communities to establish some sort of visible, gay-friendly entity to receive these newly liberated students and encourage their coming out. Otherwise, he says, the average closet case is greatly discouraged and much like a wary tortoise, he carefully withdraws his head from the world and retreats back into the safety of his shell.
But perhaps the most profound reason an LGBT advocacy group is needed in the Yuba College community and in any community that fosters young adults for that matter, is realized when Tim blurts out, interrupting one of my interview questions, that “Lives are at stake!.”
What Tim means by this is that people are killing themselves because they can’t find acceptance in society. He means that kids as young as 11 are taking their own lives because their parents won’t say being gay is okay, because upon coming out whatever friendships they had are forsaken, because they’re cut off from or unaware of available resources and their churches and schools give a disapproval or apathy amounting to an emotional stoning. They’re isolated. And once the spirit is destroyed and all hope exhausted, it seems not much is left to live for. This is happening now! Let me put this into perspective for you.
Take for instance, the case of Jamey Rodemeyer, a 14-year-old boy from Williamsville, NY who in September of last year hung himself outside of his parents’ home. He didn’t bother leaving a note. His old man and his dear ol’ mum were aware of his sexuality and the resulting bullying he endured from his fellow middle-schoolers. They enlisted the help of school counselors and themselves, were extremely supportive. It wasn’t enough.
The kid mentioned in several blog posts on various social networking websites that he admired the international chart-topping artist, Lady Gaga, for her unabashed policies of acceptance. According to an ABC News broadcast, the boy was entombed wearing an officially approved Lady Gaga t-shirt that reads, “Born this way.” The boy’s death was enough to prompt a joint campaign between Gaga and President Obama to criminalize bullying and bring awareness to the dangerous situation.
But it wasn’t enough to inspire the emergence of a club here at Yuba? Again, the child was just 14. And again, he killed himself. In plain English, the boy fashioned a noose out of whatever he could find and set himself up to be strangled. If his neck wasn’t broken when he dropped, he spent an average of 6 minutes suffocating to death.
But maybe some random teen’s sob story hailing all the way from the east coast has lost potency crossing state lines when it finally reaches our turf? After all, it’s in the past. We’re in a new year now and we’re making progress, right?
Well then how about Eric James Borges? He was only 19 when he also killed himself.
He was a student at College of the Sequoias in Visalia, California, just as many of you are probably 19-year-old college students, or were at some point not too long ago. His death happened only 4 hours and 17 minutes away from here… only 60 days ago.
Despite his passing, Borges was fortunate to have all kinds of organizational support when he was alive, including his college’s own effort, The COS Pride Club. But again, it wasn’t enough. And I’m right here alongside Tim in fear for any student who finds himself/herself in a similar situation at Yuba College as we don’t even have the barest outreach of Sequoias’ caliber (which isn’t necessarily a superior caliber to begin with).
According to a 2009 survey conducted by GLSEN (The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Educational Network), only 64% of schools in California offer a Gay-Straight Alliance support group to their attendees. And I’m ashamed to say that, presently, Yuba College is not part of that 64%.
Tim lays it all on the table. Do we neglect our positions as role models in the community and leave it to high school sophomores to pave the way? Do we promote self-exploration for beginning students only if it doesn’t make us feel uncomfortable?
Do we ignore the likelihood that the next suicide victim could very well be one of our own? By now, creating some sort of acceptance organization seems to be the only logical answer.
So in the event that we’re persuaded to do something about all of this, what are we looking at exactly, in terms of how the proposed club would function within Yuba’s social sphere?
At this point in the discussion, Tim asserts himself as willing to take all measures into his own hands, that is of course, if he anticipates a reasonable show of interest amongst his campus-mates. “It would be nothing extravagant, nothing controversial,” Tim explains. On the contrary, he’s looking for something more like a casual kick-it spot; somewhere to just talk or seek support and peer advice.
He mentions the possibility of having speakers, his ideal candidate being the famed, openly gay columnist, Dan Savage. “As far as public figures go, he’s made the biggest impression on me,” says Tim of Savage.
And Mr. Savage’s advice as recently as Feb. 24 is, “Do NOT be a stupid motherfucker.” This comes from his wildly popular “Savage Love” column running in The Stranger, advertised as Seattle’s (Washington) #1 weekly newspaper. Here Savage is known for his mouthy, often aggressive attempts at offering misguided lovers (usually of LGBT etc… persuasions) his highly opinionated evaluations of their crazy love-lives. “Do not be a stupid motherfucker” is what he advises a woman bent on tricking her husband into having gay sex just to satisfy her own disturbed fantasy. So maybe Dan Savage isn’t the most conventional choice for special guest, but, to say the least, he’d easily be in line for most entertaining.
Aside from showcasing celebrity advocates, Tim aims to partner with Cares Clinic in Sacramento to administer regular HIV testing. Working as a registered nurse for a number of years, he’s witnessed first-hand the worst of what AIDS can do. He talks about the social trend of condom-less sex and how, despite being aware of the risk of infection, sexually active youth willingly engage in unprotected intercourse for the adrenaline rush that comes along with knowing you could consequently be subjected to the virus. Tim’s message to this sect of deluded daredevils: “Sure you might not care about your own well being, but can you live with fucking up someone else’s life?” He speaks to the fact that most HIV cases involve parties that weren’t aware they had the virus. This partnership with Cares, Tim hopes, will help reduce the rate of infection in the community. And make no mistake, the rate of infection is an increasing problem. According to a study conducted by The Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, over 107,000 Californians were living with the disease in 2008. Patterns would suggest that the number has only increased since then.
Overall, Tim is looking to establish something permanent. Something that will last at Yuba College long after he finishes general ed and transfers to Chico. “But for this to work,” he says, “students have to care.” For the most part, I believe he’s right. And to add to that level of concern, a member of the college’s permanent staff must also sponsor the endeavor by volunteering as an advisor, if the club has any hope of being recognized officially. Tim’s fully aware and almost automatically hints at the possibility of having psychology Professor Lisa Jensen-Martin fill that role.
So Tim’s endeavors, as far as the college is concerned, are well underway. But it’s important to note his presence, because he definitely has a presence, in the greater area of the Yuba-Sutter community where he’s dedicated to making a more tolerable society out of what he deems a “redneck hell.”
Some time near the end of our two hours together, Tim mentions GOTBLISS Yuba-Sutter. At the time, he only said it was a local group he took part in that is committed to providing a place within our community to encourage acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle and all its harmless aspects. He made sure to advertise its online extensions: a profile on Yahoo! Groups and Facebook. What Tim didn’t think to elaborate on is the fact that GOTBLISS Yuba-Sutter is a corporation, meaning at the very least they paid a fee and filed official documents with the Secretary of State. Also, that he, himself, is now serving as Leadership Team Director, leading the entirety of the group’s operations, a group which declares, “We seek to unite all GOTBLISS Yuba-Sutter people of all walks of life by organizing events where people can meet in a fun and comfortable setting.” GOTBLISS Yuba-Sutter hasn’t always been GOTBLISS Yuba-Sutter. It started out as The Yuba Sutter Unity Group in 2003 by it’s founding member and poster child, Jeffrey Girard with similar goals. Jeffrey Girard, better known as Jeff 4 Justice, previously reigned in Tim’s spot but has since withdrawn from the Yuba-Sutter area and now he serves as an astray Corporate President who, according to Tim, “continues to assist the Yuba-Sutter Leadership Team by being our Online Communications Director and is responsible for our various online presences, including Facebook and Youtube.”
Jeff 4 Justice began his almost solo campaign for, well, justice years ago and likely broke the surface of underground with his documentary, “Rainbow Above the Sutter Buttes.” The 2-hour-long Youtube film interviews LGBT community members at length and follows alongside GOTBLISS-ers protesting Prop 8. In one scene, an anonymous asshole is quoted as such, “What the fuck are you guys doing in a little ol’ small hick town like this, man, trying to push your bullshit?” and goes on to threaten protesters by forcefully removing their peaceful propaganda. In short, Jeff has gone distances to secure Yuba-Sutter’s own struggle for LGBT support a spot on the map. It brings us back to Yuba College’s role in the mix. Can we afford to go out on a limb and say, host a regular gathering for our LGBT friends, let alone film a documentary or stand on a street corner with a sign?
All & all, Timothy Speek is a simple guy with a simple dream. “I want to be driving down N. Beale [road] and see a guy walking hand-in-hand with another guy and it NOT be a big deal.” The sour taste tickling my tongue all throughout our rendezvous at last gives way to something sweet. Tim, in the end, indeed came to The Prospector looking for publicity. And while apprehensive onlookers like myself might have seen Tim as nothing more than an egocentric pioneer looking for a higher wattage bulb to fit into the body of his personal limelight, spending a while with the man suggests he’s genuinely concerned about the cultural welfare of our community. So we students, staff and faculty of Yuba College should be aware that we stand on the brink of making a profound change for the better. With our small contribution of support, we can do as much as save lives.