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Remembering the Passariello Colloquium

Since 2000, I’ve been hosting a website for the Passariello Colloquium, a project to which I contributed as part of a working group on LGBT Issues in the Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology at Antioch University New England. Because the Colloquium website will soon be taken out of service, I wanted to be sure its contents would remain archived. Following is a brief history of the Colloquium and descriptions of the events we put on in 2000 and 2001. I have particularly fond memories of the 2000 Colloquium, in which students and faculty were invited to ‘walk in the shoes’ of an LGBT person and report back on their experiences. The aim of our working group, led by Dr. Susan Hawes, was to enhance the cultural competence in LGBT issues for psychology students in training through in-vivo experiences.

Colloquium History

The Passariello Colloquium was a memorial lecture series on gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered issues and psychology. The Colloquium was dedicated to the memory of Neil Passariello, a clinical psychology student who died of HIV/AIDS-related causes during his fourth year of academic coursework toward his doctorate. The Colloquium was sponsored by the Department of Clinical Psychology at Antioch University New England.

A brief history of the colloquium was prepared by Steve Shatinsky:

On July 26, 1990 in a special edition of PsyD Notes, Roger Peterson, Ph.D. announced the death of Neil Passariello, a beloved fourth year student, of complications stemming from AIDS.

In the same edition was the announcement that, in lieu of flowers, Neil’s family requested contributions to the Antioch New England Neil Passariello Memorial Fund. ‘The fund will be used to sponsor educational programs related to lesbian and gay issues,’ the flyer read.

Utilizing contributions made in Neil’s memory, Antioch’s Clinical Psychology Department instituted the Neil Passariello Memorial Colloquium Series. In this way the department honored Neil’s memory and passion through an educational forum related to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues.

The first colloquium was held on April 8, 1991. Michael Fernandez, Chair of the Vermont AIDS Council, spoke about relationship issues for gay and lesbian clients. On December 2, 1991, the second event in the series featured Connie Chan, Ph.D., author and faculty member at UMass, presenting on the topic, ‘What’s Love Got to Do with it?: Understanding the Impact of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Issues in Our Lives.’ Our own core faculty member, Ted Ellenhorn Ph.D., presented his ‘Reflections’ at this event.

Subsequent colloquia focused on such themes as the experience of being a gay, lesbian and bisexual teenager, as well as an Antioch community dialogue about marginal and dominant voices.

Neil's panel on the AIDS Memorial Quilt (upper left)

After a hiatus of several years, the Passariello Colloquium was revived in 1999 with the development of a new student/faculty working group, a companion web site, and successful 2000 and 2001 events.

2000 Passariello Colloquium

March 20, 2000

For the 2000 event, the 9th anniversary of the Passariello Colloquium, the committee proposed an in-house experiential and participatory model. Participants were invited to experience directly some of the personal, social, and political aspects of being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Our hope is that these brief “in-vivo” experiences may enhance participants’ understanding of what it might be like to be a member of this minority, and in a larger sense, walk in someone else’s shoes.

Community members were encouraged to engage in one or more of these activities. Links on the Resources page of the accompanying website were provided to get participants started.

Then, participants brought their experiences (or resistances) to the all-community meeting on March 20, 2000 to share in dialogue with others on what it was like to inhabit (or consider inhabiting) someone else’s culture for a few moments. Those who participated in one or more activities received a small “award” upon entering.

The activities varied in levels of intensity, and some, when done in the wrong circumstances, may have carried a risk. We asked participants to please be aware of this fact and choose activities with which they felt comfortable.

As you engage in an activity, feel free to reflect upon how you feel, think, behave, and react. The working group values the Antioch clinical psychology community, its support of gay, lesbian, and bisexual issues, and its willingness to engage in challenges!

Pre-Colloquium Participant Activities

Immersion-in-Culture Activities

  • Consider going into a gay, lesbian, or mixed (straight, gay, bisexual) bar. Look around and imagine yourself as part of the milieu. What feelings surface for you? What assumptions do you think others are making about you? How did you feel walking in – were others around who saw you enter? Is the place in a safe part of town? How accessible was it? Do you anticipate leaving? How are the smells, sights, sounds and “feel” different from other bars/clubs you’ve been to? Not sure where to go? Start your search with the Guide to Gay Boston
  • Attend other gay/ lesbian/ bi related activities, meetings, activist groups, AIDS related services, clubs, and other social activities. You can find meetings listed in the Pink Pages
  • Go to a gay book shop and browse. See listings in the Pink Pages. A suggested shop in Boston is the Glad Day book shop.
  • Inquire about same-sex benefits in the organization you work for. Do they apply to same-sex couples? If not and you inquire further, what kind of response do you get?
  • Invite a heterosexual friend to watch a movie with you that has gay theme(s). Don’t tell him or her the thematic nature of the movie, or why you came to choose this particular one. For film suggestions, visit Cinema Q: Films
  • Imagine that you are in transition from male-to-female / female-to-male.. Go to a clothing store and ask to try on an outfit designed for someone of the opposite sex. Notice reactions from the clerk or any other people in the store. How do you interpret and negotiate these reactions?

Create-A-Personal-Experience Activities

  • In an effort to experience how revealing something about yourself which may completely change how others who know you well feel about you, write a “coming out” letter to parents and/or other family/friends. What issues come up? How would they interpret your relationships, friendships, choice of career, etc. through this lense? If you like and it would not be damaging to your relationship, send it and see what the response is.
  • You are in the process of transitioning from male-to-female / female-to-male. Imagine wanting to use a public restroom of the gender with which you identify. You notice people looking at you as you approach the restroom. How do you interpret their behavior? What feelings come up for you? What do you do in response?
  • Hold hands with a same sex friend in public. How does this feel? How does it feel for you friend? How long do you walk together? Where? What are you aware of in your environment which might be different to your everyday reality?
  • Mention to someone in public that your same-sex friend is your boy/girlfriend, e.g., at a restaurant say, “and my partner will have coffee too…”
  • Let someone in a bureaucratic position know you are gay/lesbian, e.g., start to apply for a marriage license and let someone know that you want to marry someone of the same sex.
  • Have a conversation in which you make all the pronouns in your speech gender-neutral when describing a significant other.
  • Engage a religious authority in a conversation about something related to a loved one. As the conversation progresses, let them know that you, or a loved one, is gay/lesbian. What is the reaction? How do you feel during this conversation?
  • Call a political authority and ask for their views on same sex marriage, making sure to let them know that you are gay/lesbian.
  • Speak with a military recruiter and tell them you are gay.
  • Flirt with someone of the same sex. At the very least, hold eye contact longer than expected with someone of the same sex.

Personal Awareness Activities

  • Observe your language in casual conversations. Do you use gender inclusive language when speaking? E.g., do you ask, “are you in a relationship?” or do you ask “do you have a girlfriend?”
  • Find a gay/lesbian/bi person and ask them to tell you their coming out story. In response, tell them about the experiences in your life that made you know you were attracted to people of the opposite sex, and how knowledge that you were straight was facilitated (or not) by the culture.
  • Consider ways in which you have been enfranchised and validated by others’ knowledge that you are heterosexual. Find your own ways to cast doubt on these assumptions.
  • Consider going into a “straight” bar. This time imagine yourself as a gay or lesbian person. How do you interpret the activities going on around you – the decorations, pictures, television programs, music, and other paraphenalia in the place. If you talk to someone, or someone talks to you, how do you feel, knowing you are gay/lesbian? What assumptions have they made and how do you negotiate either countering them or going along with them?
  • Strike up a conversation with someone in a socially-neutral place, such as laundromat or library. Know that you are gay/lesbian/bi/trans and see how the conversation develops. What assumptions are being made by your conversational partner. What position does this put you in? At what point do you make choices about what to reveal of yourself that might be different if you were heterosexual? Consider telling the person at some point that you are gay (or drop a hint by identifying yourself as living in a gay/lesbian neighborhood or using words such as “partner” instead of husband/wife). What feelings do you have? What reactions does your conversational partner have?


Participants’ Reports of Pre-Colloquium Activities

The 2000 Passariello Colloquium invited participants to walk in the shoes of an LGBT person by engaging independently in experiential activities. To support participants’ independent efforts, suggested activities and resources were provided several weeks in advance of the event. As participants entered the Community Room, they were asked to jot down the activities they selected. Here is what they wrote:

  • “Talked to my kids about choice and being lesbian.”
  • “Gay restaurant, bar, bookstore (actually only the gay section, does that count?). Wore a gay pride pin.”
  • “On a Saturday night, trying to go to a night club, we ended up in a line for 30 minutes. When we got to the front they asked if we had been there on a Sat. night. It was gay night. The bouncer looked at us and suggested other places, without asking if we wanted to stay. It was assumed we weren’t welcome or wouldn’t enjoy it.”
  • “I went to an out door ‘feminist celebration’ and watched my friend Heidi Batchelder perform (she is a local NH folk artist). Later she and I ‘girl watched’ together. It was a pretty unique experience.”
  • “Went to a gay nightclub with a friend and her partner.”
  • “I went to a gay coffee house and bookstore”
  • “I recounted to sister a way to talk to her young boys about relationships and the possibility that they might be ‘partners’ rather than ‘husbands’. She was aghast and I was angry at her reaction. Made me realize how difficult it is to explain a more diverse way of being to people who think it is wrong.”
  • “Talked with grad. school friend about our mutual discomforts while he was coming out.”
  • “Used non-gendered language.”
  • “Gone to numerous gay bars.”
  • “1) Go to gay bars on a regular basis. 2) Have a homosexual teenager live with me until his parents accepted him again. 3) Accompany a homosexual friend with his struggle with aids.”
  • “Watched ‘La Vie En Rose’.”
  • “Discussing the movie ‘If These Walls Could Talk’ with Vanessa Redgrave, Sharon Stone and Anne Heche. Staring into someone of same sex eyes in public place.”
  • “I asked five friends to pose as my girlfriend so I could do one of the activities for today, and just their reactions were amazing! In addition, I shared a hotel room with a same sex friend, with only one bed…..”
  • “Imagining being at a gay bar. It was a reflection of a past experience.”
  • “Visited with friends at a gay club in my home town.”
  • “Going to a wedding with a female friend – holding hands and calling her ‘my date’.”
  • “I relived key moments of my past, when I led a life with a loser orientation- mostly a straight woman walking a bisexual path in a predominantly lesbian community.”
  • “Tuesday, 3/21, School Board Meeting at Plymouth NH Regional High School- ‘Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Heterosexual Students of Diversity’ recognition and support to raise awareness of diversity, learn about homophobia, reduce/eliminate prejudice.”
  • “I talked to a religious authority and found some are open while others are very closed!”
  • “Helped granny (again) deal with my coming out.”
  • “My ex-husband is gay so this is really part of my experience on a daily basis.”
  • “I visited an adult video and book store specializing in adult gay male products.”

Group Facilitators’ Reflections

Marcie Hebert:

I was in a group with 6 other students and one faculty member. The discussion in my group was very open. Two members (both students) had engaged in activities that were suggested. One straight person shared her experience “posing” as a same sex couple with a friend and others’ reactions to this. This helped spark conversation among those who had not done an activity, but who could relate this experience to times when their sexual orientation was at question. One person shared her dilemma being single and having people wonder whether this is because she is gay. Another interesting discussion focused on how gender seems to be related to homophobia and how this was represented in the recent Civil Union debate in Vermont (where the majority of politicians opposed to it are men). Other issues that arose were deciding when to be out and when to confront family, friends, or others about their prejudices towards g/l/b. One group member shared her discomfort in reading some of the activities listed and how she could not imagine engaging in them. We also talked about the use of the label partner and one person (married, heterosexual) shared his purposely using this term to test others’ openness and awareness level. We then discussed whether it is easier to do this and other activities on the list with the underlying knowledge that one really is straight and how this might compare to the discomfort a g/l/b person might experience in the same situations.

The experience as a whole was refreshing and invigorating. I am very appreciative of everyones willingness to be open and honest about an issue that is often difficult to discuss. I shared my own experiences as a lesbian in situations that have been difficult for me and felt very supported in my role as facilitator. The feedback I got from those in my group and others at the colloquium was positive and I think dialogue like this should happen more in a place like Antioch-where people are open and eager to learning more about the experiences of others.

Steve Gross & Nancy Sptizack:

The group we sat with had a number of faculty represented. While none of the group members had done any of the exercises, we did talk about times and places where group members were thought by others to be of another sexual orientation (i.e. straights were thought to be gay/lesbian, or vice versa). What we remember most from our discussion was the willingness of the faculty to expose their own interactions with these situations, which meant a great deal to us, and said something positive about a willingness to continue to tangle with these challenging issues.

There were additional aspects to our group interaction. One member shared a recent experience at an inpatient unit in which one of the patients had gender identity issues. This group member discussed challenges involved in trying to promote awareness and tolerance among other staff members, and then being treated differently after his interventions. The group also discussed experiences with other types of diversity and group members shared issues to which they were particularly drawn. There was also a discussion about Neil Passariello by faculty members who knew him. They commented that he would have been happy about the experiential nature of the colloquium, and that he was especially drawn to psychodrama. It was a nice way to begin the discussion.

Cornelia R. Dougall:

The group that I led had a wide variety of previous experiences that put them in a role or an environment that was different from their own position concerning their sexual preference. I found that my group was collectively open to trying on unfamiliar experiences. Many of them had been in circumstances previously, that were suggested as part of the colloquium. We engaged in conversation relative to what if you were to tell your family you were gay or bisexual. Again there was a broad range of spectulated responses. The group seemed to talk candidly and openly about the suggested experiments and their reactions, thoughts, and feelings relative to the same.

I was paired with a group of students from the same year and I was the outsider. The group noted that it was okay to talk openly to each other but that because they did not know me, some felt some discomfort. I am not giving more specifics because I told my group that I would not share their specific reactions in an effort to open discussion. Perhaps in the future the group facilitators could be situated such that participants can choose the facilitator rather than the facilitator choosing the group as was done this year. I found that I learned from my group. It was an interesting experience to be sort of an eves dropper on a group of people self-identified as heterosexual concerning issues relative to homosexuality and bisexuality.

It would be nice to have more Antioch students who are allies attend the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and allies group. My group demonstrated great support and interest in being more supportive of the concerns of the gay, lesbian, and bisexual community.

Geoffrey Steinberg:

The staying power of homophobia across generations emerged as a theme in the group that I led. Both straight and lesbian/gay participants spoke about family members’ attitudes–from a grandmother’s concerns that her grandaughter is ‘too out,’ to participants’ adolescent children putting down gays/lesbians or wishing to avoid situations where others might perceive them as gay/lesbian. Encountering family members’ attitudes put group members in a position where they faced a choice whether or not to confront others’ homophobia. Such a choice may bring up one’s own fears. However, the members of this group accepted the Colloquium’s challenge to engage in experiential activities and found ways to gently remind family members that it is possible to regard others who are different from oneself in a more enlightened way.A similar theme emerged with respect to navigating social situations of one’s own, for example, a gay male’s sense of vigilance when visiting a straight sports bar, and a straight woman who corrected others’ mistaken perception of her as lesbian due to engaging in activities that did not conform to gender stereotypes. Speaking openly about managing presentations of gender and sexual orientation with a mixed group does not seem to happen often in the course of ordinary social interactions, and I appreciate the group’s willingness to do so at the Colloquium.

2001 Passariello Colloquium

April 26, 2001

Tenth Anniversary Passariello Colloquium: Images of Gay Men, Lesbians, and Bisexuals in Supportive Letters to the Editor: With Friends Like These…

On April 16, 2001, Glenda Russell, Ph.D., Jason Mihalko, Stacy Higgins, and Autumn Porubsky gave a presentation based on their contribution to the Conference of the Association of Women Psychologists in Los Angeles.

The presenters read letters to the editors of a newspaper, asking how LGB people and heterosexual allies see and understand lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals. The letters were written by LGB folks and their heterosexual allies and they offer support for gay rights issues that were before the voters in elections held during three time periods; one election was the first municipal referendum on gay rights anywhere in the country.

Academically, the question is: what kinds of constructions of LGB people do these supportive letter-writers hold? How have the constructions changed between 1974 and 1993? The results surprised us and they will surprise the audience as well. The results have implications for clinical and political spheres, and the participants will have a chance to explore theses implicatons in depth.

based on their original presentation,

Russell, G.M., Mihalko, J.E., & Higgins, S. (2001, March). Constructions of lesbian and gay men in supportive letters to the editor. In M. Biaggio (chair). Representations of lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals and their rights. Symposium presented at the Conference of the Association of Women Psychologists, Los Angeles, CA.

with introductions and historical overview by Susan Hawes, Ph.D. and Marcie Hebert

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