Gay support gets show of hands

Published: Wednesday, January 28, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 28, 2004 at 1:15 a.m.
Jeanna Mastrodicasa, a University of Florida faculty member, said she enjoyed the reaction she got Tuesday when she held hands with another woman as part of an annual awareness campaign on campus aimed at homophobia.
Tuesday was the first of the Gator Gay-Straight Alliance's two "Same-Sex Hand-Holding Days," when UF students are asked to show their support of homosexual rights while getting a taste of what it feels like to be discriminated against because of one's sexual orientation.
Holding hands is just another way to show support for all types of people, regardless of sexual orientation, and to see what it's like to be in their position, said Mastrodicasa, the organization's faculty adviser.
She said she noticed some reactions to holding hands with another woman - sidelong glances and double takes.
"It helps people understand the heterosexism on campus," she said, adding that students gain a different perspective by both observing and participating in the event.
Robyn Reilly, a UF freshman, said she held hands with a female friend and decided to take part of the event because she was interested in the message it sent to others.
"I have a lot of gay friends and it's not an issue with me," she said. "I hate to see them discriminated against."
Members of the Gay-Straight Alliance set up a table with signs promoting their event and fliers encouraging acceptance and an end to discrimination against homosexuals.
The group holds the event, which continues today, each year during People Awareness Week, which is sponsored by the UF Dean of Students Office.
The event was started four years ago and has since become less controversial to students, Mastrodicasa said.
Since the news media caught wind of the event, word has spread on the Internet to campuses across the United States and even to Europe.
Many other American university students have developed their own version of the event, said Scott Feldman, a UF alumnus who co-founded the organization.
Feldman, who was on Turlington passing out fliers and holding signs, said the event is effective on campus because there are always new students to reach.
Since the event has grown and attracted more attention, Feldman has been working to keep the organization's approaches fresh and to encourage people to carry out the group's messages in their everyday lives.
"In some ways I want to go against making it a tradition," Feldman said. "I don't want it to seem like today is the only day to hold hands with the same sex."
The Gator Gay-Straight Alliance has more than 700 people on its listserv and 20 to 30 active members who attend the meetings Tuesdays at 8 p.m. in the Reitz Union.
This semester the group will also advocate the right to gay marriage by putting on a campaign called "All Love Is Beautiful" on Valentine's Day.

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