PHILADELPHIA — Take five or 10 minutes, the professor said, and write down things that you love, like, need, or enjoy.
Now pair up with someone you don’t know and spend 20 minutes introducing yourself. Talk about whatever you want. But don’t mention anything that you wrote down.
Try going on for a half hour without a word about the most important things in life. Imagine a full day.
“It might be difficult,” said instructor Robin Brennan. “That’s what this course is about. That is just a glimpse of what it is like for somebody who is LGBT” — lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.
The course is about LGBT health disparities, many of which — such as higher-than-average rates of suicide, drug addiction, and smoking — are linked to greater stress. Fear of sharing personal information, even with a doctor, doesn’t help. The Drexel University School of Public Health this semester began what is believed to be the second program in the nation to offer a certificate in LGBT health.
The first, started in 2007 at the University of Pittsburgh, is taught on campus there. Drexel’s certificate is granted only to online students, although it is expected to be available in the future to those who take the courses in physical classrooms.
At their first meeting on the Philadelphia campus, some of Brennan’s seven master’s level students were stumped by the opening question on a handout: What do you think caused your heterosexuality? “I don’t remember doing it,” said Lauren Orsini.
Question No. 8 — Why do you flaunt your sexuality? Can’t you just be who you are and keep it quiet? — got to Tosin Seriki: “Flaunt? I am who I am. Keep it quiet? No. That’s me!” Another exercise asked them to classify people as heterosexual, lesbian, gay, or bisexual based on brief descriptions, such as: A man who is more attracted to men than women, although all of his sexual relationships have been with women.
There was no correct answer, but the questions helped students dig into the meaning of “sexual orientation.” (It is considered to be some combination of attraction, behavior, and identity. Transgender, on the other hand, the T in LGBT, is all about gender identity; a trans man or woman may be straight, gay, or bisexual.)
But labels oversimplify. More than 75 percent of lesbians have had a prior sexual experience with men, according to one study. And 9 percent of men who described themselves as straight in a 2006 New York City study said they had had sex with a man in the previous year. — MCT