Students share challenges, successes of having roommates with different sexualities

Editor’s Note: Story Reported by Kent Wired, Madeleine Winer

Freshman Brandon Stephens had a roommate last year who was uncomfortable with Stephens’s homosexuality.

“He would just make the smallest comments,” said Stephens, a criminology and justice studies major. “For some reason he

Brandon Stephens displays this rainbow ribbon on his backpack with pride. Stephens encourages LGBTQ members to educate others that they are just like everyone else.. Photo by Jessica Denton, Kent Wired

would always say, ‘Oh, I’m not going to change in front of you.’ And I was like, ‘OK, whatever, I don’t care what you do.’”

Stephens said his Wright Hall roommate’s comments gradually began to bother him. At first, his roommate, Chris, said he didn’t have a problem with having a gay roommate. But after four weeks of school, Stephens said he knew he was uncomfortable.

“I got frustrated. It got to the point where I realized I wasn’t going to be able to change the way he thought about me and about the community in general,” said Stephens, who is also vice president of PRIDE!. “I wasn’t ready for that fight yet. I wasn’t ready to put up with that.”

Like some other members of the LGBTQ community, Stephens was a freshman who found his campus living situation to be unpleasant. He moved out halfway through his first semester, and said he feels that students should educate themselves about the LGBTQ community.

“Gay people aren’t the community’s worst enemy — ignorance is,” Stephens said. “There are various people who have had the same problem as me, and it’s a problem everywhere. Obviously, ignorance is everywhere. Education should be a main weapon in dealing with every problem we face.”

Sophomore news major Kyle Vertoch, Stephens’s second-semester roommate, said he experienced some trepidation before Stephens moved in, but the two quickly became friends once they got to know each other.

“I did have a little bit of fear because I didn’t know what to expect,” Vertoch said. “Overall, it was a good experience. You can’t really judge people because they have a different sexual orientation. You have to work with them and see where it goes.”

But, Daniel O’Donnell, freshman theatre studies major, said he had the opposite reaction when he was placed with a gay roommate last spring semester.

“It wasn’t weird that he was gay; it was weird that he was constantly reminding me that he was,” he said.

Freshman theatre studies major Shane Daniels, O’Donnell’s roommate, said he thought O’Donnell accepted his homosexuality but that his roommate’s joking around went too far. O’Donnell and their mutual friends, Daniels said, would call him names like “horror.”

“I try to be an accepting person. My uncle is a homosexual. A bunch of my friends are homosexual. I’m OK with it,” O’Donnell said.

Daniels said he now lives in an apartment with a straight roommate, after a total of four in two semesters. He said they talked about his sexual orientation before he moved in, and having the same talk with O’Donnell may have helped their relationship.

“Maybe if I would have had that talk with him, it could have gone better,” Daniels said. “I feel like this whole thing with me and him got blown out of proportion. I know we’re not going to be friends again, and that’s OK.”

Unlike Stephens and O’Donnell, Madeline Utrup and her straight roommate, Leah Kushmaul, found each other via social media by using the Facebook app RoomSync.

“I didn’t really even ask her about the whole gay thing at first,” said Utrup, freshman hospitality management major. “I put in my profile that I was really accepting and open minded and whatever. I saw her profile and thought she had a cool personality based on what she said. We talked through text, and I asked her, ‘How do you feel about gay people?’ and she said, ‘I love gay people.’ I was like, ‘This is awesome.’”

Kushmaul, freshman athletic training major, said in high school she had gay friends and was accustomed to being around people of different sexual orientation. She said her and Utrup are open about their differences.

“I understand that she is interested in girls and that she has a girlfriend,” Kushmaul said. “It’s like any other relationship. It’s just like talking to my friends about their boyfriends and the issues that they’re having. It’s the same.”

Kushmaul said she thinks that people’s exposure to the LGBTQ community and how they have been raised plays a big part in their acceptance. Utrup said she is lucky to have been placed with such a supportive roommate.

“I know that’s weird because normally you’d think you have a lot of challenges, but its not awkward at all,” Utrup said. “I’m surprised there aren’t more (issues), but I mean if you find the right roommate, it’s not an issue at all.”

Stephens, who now lives with one gay and one bisexual roommate, said having LGBTQ roommates didn’t make a big difference in his living situation. It made it better, though, that they were friends first.

“Sexual orientation doesn’t play a factor for me,” Stephens said. “It helps that we’re best friends, and we’re close. There are a lot of differences between gay and straight men, but I think we can get along just as easy as anything else.”

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