Speaker blames media for more gay people

By Byron Patten - Staff Reporter

YAKIMA — A presenter at the Students of Color Conference accused the media of encouraging men of color to be gay and feminine.

The statements produced feelings of shock and offense among students who were present. 

The Students of Color Conference concluded its 28th annual event on April 14. Throughout the three-day conference, speeches and workshops presented centered around raising awareness of the struggles of marginalized groups. 

One session was presented by consultant Stella Haioulani, titled, Me Myself and I. According to the workshop synopsis, the session was a "safe, highly interactive, group session that cultivates truth, unity, and resilience." 

In the session, Haioulani focused on stereotypes that affect women and men of color in various races. Students were invited to name stereotypes of the various races and their personal experiences. 

One recurring stereotype that was cited throughout the session was the need for men to be hyper-masculine and women to be feminine. 

"The media perpetuates a lot of stereotypes. It encourages roles, like women are princesses and black people are criminals," said one student. 

Haioulani then discussed the issues with there being fewer men than women in the world.

"There is an agenda in the media to persuade men to be feminine and gay," said Haioulani.

 "An act that has caused this population influx," said Haioulani. "The media is bombarding us with this kind of imagery, especially in men of color." 

 It is pressuring men and creating more people who are gay or act feminine, said Haioulani.

Highline student Makai Clark said he was surprised by Haioulani's comments. 

"My biggest complaint is that we spent all this time breaking down these stereotypes, and here she was perpetuating a stereotype of what it is to be masculine and that femininity in men was bad," said Clark.

When students immediately attempted to comment on the presenter's statement, Hailoulani silenced the crowd due to time restraints and continued with the session. 

"There were almost 10 people who stood up to say something and she didn't let any of them speak. That is the real problem. She glazed over them," said Highline student Simran Kaur. "People were pissed, some even crying."

Many students left the room after not being able to offer counterpoints to Haioulani over her comments. 

"I felt hurt," said Clark. "There is already a divide between sexuality and marginalized communities, especially within the black community and she is reinforcing that."

Clark spoke about the struggles it creates for people who fall under those categories and the way society views them. 

"You have to be one or the other," said Clark. "You can't be black and gay. You can't be straight and feminine." 

Kaur said she couldn't get over the claims. 

"The fact is people who are gay and feminine exist. To say that is all because of media is wrong. You're discounting them as people," said Kaur. "When some people see all groups represented in the media, they see progress, but when someone sees that as an attack on culture, of course people get upset." 

After the session, a group of students stayed to confront Haioulani, but the attempt at dialogue seemed ineffective, said Kaur. 

"Admittedly, we went in with it wrong. It was like attacking her, but at the same time it doesn't excuse her from not listening to what we're saying," Kaur said. 

When students requested statistics to back up her claims, Haioulani said she had none. 

"I can't know everything. I know my area of expertise and I know to be cautious of the media," said Haioulani. "The people who always have the most problems with me are atheist and lgbt people."

Displeased with the results of their dialogue, students from a number of schools took action to create their own workshop session. 

At the session, people debriefed what had happened and advised present committee members on what they could do to avoid errors in the future. 

Doris Martinez, chair of the planning committee for the conference, and Highline director of student inclusion and diversity, said the incident was not planned and apologized to any students that were hurt. 

"That is not what our conference stands for," said Martinez. "SOCC in its 28 years of running is supposed to provide a space for people to bring all of themselves and their identities." 

Organizers for the conference have been discussing the situation, she said. 

"We will continue to discuss this. The conference is for our students and we take the feedback extremely, extremely seriously," Martinez said. "We will continue to take into account what happens at our sessions." 

Despite the comments made by Haioulani, students were still happy with the experience. 

"We learned a lot in just dialoguing with other people," said Kaur. "The people I met here were amazing and the conversations with other students so powerful."

"In no way do I regret going," said Kaur. "I've come out learning and growing from the uncomfortable situation." 

Martinez focused on comfortability as well. 

"Having these discussions is never easy and people are on all different levels in the spectrum of understanding," said Martinez. "What happened was unfortunate, but I am proud to see that the students took action and started their own session.

"SOCC is life, and through feelings of discomfort, you learn to grow and value your own journey," Martinez said.


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