Still proud to be an Aggie

Posted on 12 Apr 2013 at 10:15am

LGBTQ high schoolers considering Texas A&M can rest assured that senators behind anti-gay bill don’t reflect university’s core values

Screen shot 2013-04-11 at 7.00.26 PMIn a way, Texas A&M was forced on me. The school was nowhere on my radar, but it seemed like every adult I looked up to as a high school senior was pushing me in that direction.

“A&M would be a perfect fit for you,” they said.

Through the decision-making process, I heard two types of stories about the university.

Outsiders told me about the lack of diversity and how conservative it was. Stories from Aggies, however, were expectedly and substantially different.

They recounted their experiences, and, mainly, I saw the love and pride they had for their school and for each other. Of the schools I had applied to, no alumni spoke about their alma mater in this way.

I took a chance and accepted my admissions offer without ever having visited campus.

I’ve heard a lot of folks refer to A&M as “cult-like.” You know, I don’t deny it — we’re crazy about our school and traditions. But I firmly believe that it is this uniqueness that also instills a sense of pride in our community, knowing that there is no college in America where a student will receive an experience in and out of the classroom like you will at Texas A&M.

Today, it is that same pride that compels me to stand up for myself, and Aggies everywhere, in a completely different way.

Last week, the A&M Student Senate voted on a “Religious Funding Exemption Bill” that, had it not been vetoed by the student body president, would have allowed students to opt out of paying a portion of their fees on religious grounds. Make no mistake, despite its title, the resolution was a direct attack of A&M’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community — and unfortunately, it wasn’t the first.

Gay Americans have experienced a history of marginalization, but fortunately there’s a shifting tide. While our generation shares its differences, we still join as a united front against anyone who perpetuates discrimination toward a particular group.

In the face of hostile discourse, Aggies were anything but complacent. After all, it is the university that stresses the importance of developing leaders of character, yet we continue to see negative rhetoric aimed at fellow students.

The backlash that was a result of these actions was fueled by sentiments that this A&M and these student senators did not represent the core values and convictions that we are taught to be paramount. Aggies made phone calls and wrote emails to the administration. Some removed their Aggie rings and vowed to cease donations to the University. Ultimately, the bill was vetoed, and there will be no future attempt to override the decision. While this outcome is welcomed, it came at an unfortunate price: Our school’s reputation was once again tarnished by a group of students who do not represent the welcoming community we take so much pride in.

I, too, was angered by the actions of the senate, but what bothered me the most was the idea of a prospective student seeing this dialogue and adopting a negative, disjointed perception about the type of people who call themselves “Aggies.”

After all, it was at A&M where I came to terms with being gay, where I started coming out, where I had my first serious relationship, and where on many Friday nights, I’d join a group of about 10 fellow cadets and head to the gay bar. I had a positive experience, and I wanted to convey that in a letter to a prospective student.

After writing it, I asked a handful of friends to co-sign. Mainly, it was a way to check myself: Was I simply drinking too much of the maroon Kool-Aid?

The handful of friends quickly turned into 50. Now, hundreds of Aggies stand in solidarity behind this letter in support of a future LGBTQ student. It is just one experience, but that experience was based off of a foundation that a community provided me with — a community that has once again come together in a true testament of the Aggie Network.

It’s unrealistic for me to expect a change in everyone’s perceptions. But if a kid from Paradise, Texas — who happens to be Latino and liberal and gay — can fit in and thrive at Texas A&M, then there is no doubt that within the student population of almost 50,000, there is also a place for others who are different.

I’m not here to argue that A&M is perfect; I realize that there are many friendships that need to be made and conversations that must occur, but our voice is growing stronger with every passing moment.

Simply, it is my hope that if there’s a kid out there with hesitations about applying to A&M, they now know that the family that welcomed me is already standing behind them.

To read “An Open Letter to LGBTQ High School Students Considering Texas A&M,” go to TinyURL.com/TAMUletter.

Danny Hernandez is an LGBT activist, a J.D. candidate at Temple University Beasley School of Law in Philadelphia and a former staff member at Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 12, 2013.

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