Chris Jones was the target of homophobic bullying at his small Pennsylvania college. But since transferring to Rutgers–New Brunswick in fall 2011, he feels at ease. He shares his experience, with the hope of helping other bullied teens and young adults.
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Being Out, Speaking Out
It wasn't easy for Chris, third from left in photo above, to come out in high school as an openly gay student. But with the support of family and friends, he learned to deal with the name-calling and stares.
He didn’t expect things to get worse after graduation. But at the small school he attended in Pennsylvania, where Chris was majoring in equine science, he was subjected to harassment and physical threats, he says.
At the end of his sophomore year, he transferred to Rutgers, with a mix of factors contributing to his decision: a strong equine science program, the warm atmosphere he found when visiting friends, the affordable tuition, and the encouragement of several Rutgers administrators. He also was drawn by the university’s new special interest living-learning community, Rainbow Perspectives, which is devoted to understanding issues of sexual and gender identity. (In the photo above, Chris appears with five of his Rainbow Perspectives dorm-mates.)
I believe when it comes to times of hate, and darkness surrounds you, never be afraid to shine your own light. It makes an impact, and you never know how many lives you’ll touch.
"Every time I visited Rutgers, I felt so at ease,” Chris recalls. “There were so many smiling faces.” Having now completed a full year at Rutgers, Chris says, “I am still thrilled that I am here. It is very much the supportive community I needed after my experience at my previous college.”
Overcoming his hardships has empowered Chris to share his story, with the goal of fortifying other students confronting similar situations. “I want my name out there and my face out there. I’m going to be dedicated to helping the gay community,’’ he says. “I believe when it comes to times of hate, and darkness surrounds you, never be afraid to shine your own light. It makes an impact, and you never know how many lives you’ll touch.”
At Rutgers, Chris has thrown himself into LGBT activities. He belongs to the Queer Student Alliance, a political and social organization founded at Rutgers more than 40 years ago—“it’s all about support and causes worth fighting for,” notes Chris. He is also a Scarlet Listener, providing peer counseling, and has found “brothers I never had” by joining Delta Lambda Phi, the national social fraternity for gay, bisexual, and progressive men.
Last October, Chris (seated in red shirt in photo) had a front-row seat when Rutgers hosted a taping of CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360˚. “Bullying: It Stops Here,” a town hall-style episode, aired shortly after the first anniversary of the suicide of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, whose death raised international awareness of cyberbullying and suicide among gay youth.
A Career Combining Horses and Healing
From Tyler Clementi’s suicide to his own recent struggles, a heightened awareness of the emotional fragility of troubled teens and young adults has influenced Chris’s thoughts for a future career. “I’m still in the clouds about a major,” Chris says, “but I’m leaning toward social work, with an equine science minor. I see horses as a therapeutic outlet for people, especially teens, who have been bullied, are grieving, or have other problems. Horses are very empathetic animals. They can sense emotions.” He envisions something along the lines of current hippotherapy approaches that support a wide range of individuals, from children with autism to recovering addicts to victims of domestic violence.
A key support system for Chris is the new Rainbow Perspectives gender-neutral housing option, where about 40 students—both LGBT and straight—participate in workshops, community service activities, and programming focusing on the diversity of LGBT experiences. “I’ve attended sessions and lectures about acceptance and tolerance,” says Chris, “and I like that there is a fresh mindset with everyone who lives in the building. I have made some pretty substantial friendships.” Rainbow Perspectives is administered by the Center for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities, where Jenny Kurtz serves as director.
For students who are in the midst of exploring their sexual and gender identity, Kurtz reminds them that they may not find answers right away. “There’s a lot of pressure to declare what they ‘really’ are,’’ she says. “I just say, ‘why don’t you just let yourself be who you are right now?’ ’’
This article is a follow-up to a story that ran in September 2011 in Rutgers Focus.