Whenever men ask Ali Lozano out she politely declines, explaining she only dates women.
Last year, one of her want-to-be suitors was taken back because he didn’t believe Lozano looked like a lesbian.
“But you’re pretty!” she remembers him saying.
His response was jarring but not necessarily unexpected, Lozano said.
“It was very indicative of a lot of existing stereotypes about lesbians,” she said. “Lesbians are assumed to be butch, and quite frankly, unattractive. When those stereotypes and assumptions aren’t followed or are proven to be false, it can be shocking for someone who doesn’t know any better.”
After initially hiding her sexuality from friends and family, Lozano came out in December 2009. At the time, she said she did not know a single lesbian on campus.
“The time I felt most overshadowed was definitely when I came out because I was just like, ‘Where are they?’ ” she said. “I wouldn’t even say that it’s a small population because there are a lot of us, it’s just that we tend to lay low a little bit because of the overwhelming amount of gay men.”
Lozano said she found her footing at GW after becoming more involved with gay rights organizations, including a direct action civil disobedience group called GetEQUAL and a group called Queer Rising in New York City. She also works as a student coordinator at the LGBT Resource Center.
Lozano was arrested Monday in New York City after participating in a direct action event with Queer Rising to advocate for gay marriage rights in the state. She was one of several people blocking rush hour traffic at the intersection of 6th Avenue and 42nd Street with a 72-foot banner.
“We kind of expected it,” Lozano said of being arrested. “It was our goal to get more visibility, so it was a planned arrestable action.”
Lozano spent 25 hours in jail and was released Tuesday morning. She has a court date set for May.
Other students interviewed said people often perceive lesbians as aggressive, fast-paced and radical because of their involvement in gay rights activism.
Sophomore Marika Lee, who came out her senior year of high school, said lesbians and queer women are often associated with being very radical in a bad way.
“A lot of people at GW see the radicalism in [the lesbian community] in a negative sense, but it doesn’t need to be that way. Being radical is great and it’s progressive, and it’s fun, and it’s being active in the community. I think we need to change that image from being a negative one to a positive one,” Lee said.
Lee said that growing up in San Francisco, a city known for its liberal attitudes and home to the most famous of gay neighborhoods, The Castro, helped her be more comfortable with her sexuality. She said she has never felt the need to hide her sexuality as lesbian.
Senior Kathleen McGinn, founder of the Association of Queer Women and Allies, said the queer women’s community was not very visible at GW when she came out the summer after her freshman year of college. She created AQWA, an umbrella organization of Allied in Pride, in fall of 2009.
“I think there is always room for growth, but the change in the past two years or so has been remarkable in terms of increasing the visibility of queer women on campus,” she said.
McGinn said the group has been successful in getting queer women involved on campus.
“Events started being created that focused solely on queer women’s experiences, such as the queer women’s health forum, movie screenings and discussion panels,” she said. “Also, queer women’s membership in Allied in Pride and their presence on the executive board increased substantially.”
The girls said that because GW is known for its significant gay population, queer women find it is easier to come out on such an accepting campus.
“We have an extremely large gay population, as well as LGBT-out faculty, which I think also is very impactful for students coming out,” Lozano said.
But Mariel Tygenhof, who is bisexual, said people can be skeptical of those who are attracted to both sexes. “Straight people often think that bisexuals are confused and it’s like a phase, and lesbians tend to not want to date bisexuals because they are scared of them going back to guys,” the junior said.
Tygenhof said bisexuals usually choose to identify with either the gay community or the straight community, and hang out predominantly with one or the other.
The girls said that while GW is mostly gay-friendly, there is still more progress to be made in the way others react to queer women.
“When I meet someone new and they find out I’m a lesbian, they don’t need to act like they’ve just spotted a unicorn,” Lozano said. “People need to know that we do in fact exist. While we are lesbian, we are regular students and if you do have lesbian friends, you don’t need to treat them any differently.”