Sex Issue: Gay GW: What about the women?

This story is part of The GW Hatchet’s 2006 Life Section Sex Issue.

It seems like every girl has that one gay friend she adores. He’s funny, hip and sensitive, and many girls wish they could find a straight guy who is more like him.

GW is not lacking these types of men – it is well-known on campus that the University has a solid gay population. Many students, however, might not think of female students when talking about GW’s gay community.

For Junior Sara Sherwood, finding a cohesive lesbian community on campus wasn’t easy. It took her until this year to find a group of lesbian friends, which she said might be because lesbians “seek strong female friendships more than they actively search out other lesbians.”

The Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, a student group that includes supporting gay rights among its many goals, was where Sherwood eventually found her close group of girlfriends.

Professor Stephen Forssell, who has studied many topics dealing with gender and sexuality, such as the development of same-sex relationships, pointed to a 1994 national study conducted at the University of Chicago that reported that 2.8 percent of American males described themselves as being gay, while 1.4 percent of American women called themselves lesbians.

Forsell’s limited findings show the disparity at GW to be far more drastic. Every year, Forssell does a survey in his general psychology classes, which he said are fairly representative of GW’s student body because they are popular introductory lecture courses.

On average, about 15 percent of male students say they’re gay while 3 percent of female students do.

Why the difference? Forssell explained that men prefer to socialize in large, loud groups and generally act more forward than girls, who tend to favor one-on-one interaction and getting to know people on a personal level.

It makes sense that gay groups would highlight this underlying gender difference, Forsell said.

“Guys want to be where all the action is,” he said. GW is about as close to the action as you can get. Urban settings help explain why schools such as Boston University and New York University also have prominent gay male populations.

While he has not done any quantitative studies on the topic, Forssell hypothesized that “lesbians are far more attracted to small, tight-knit liberal arts schools,” where they can socialize more intimately and form more personal relationships.

This semester, The Out Crowd, a student organization for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning students, elected its first-ever female president, freshman Megan Foster. She said the club’s executive board and overall membership is now pretty evenly divided between males and females, a change from past years.

Foster conceded that the lesbian population at GW is not as cohesive as the men’s by any stretch, but said “the female community isn’t looking for that visibility.”

Robin Wood, who has been involved with The Out Crowd, said she finds GW to be a welcoming environment for gays.

“People here are very accepting, so there is no reason not to come out,” Wood said.

“There are a lot of typical gay party guys here, and Apex is always packed with a gay GW crowd that all know each other,” Wood said, referring to a popular gay club in Dupont Circle. The club has college nights each Thursday that attract many GW students.

Wood joked that while “gay guys like to go out and party together, lesbian women know after the second date whether or not they are going to want to settle down.”

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