FAU Professor Teaching Class on LGBT and the Media
When Fred Fejes started teaching his class on sexuality and the media in 1986, the New York Times wouldn’t have called Fejes gay had they reported on it.
They would have considered it libelous and referred to him as a homosexual for another year.
Fejes has taught a class on sexuality and the media - which traces 30 years of changes in the LGBT community’s representation - for the last 27 of those years. And his class wasn’t called "sexuality and the media" back when he started teaching it, either.
It was called AIDS in American Society.
"The most interesting part of this class, probably, would be for students becoming aware of how different it was 20 years ago, 25 years ago, 30 years ago," Fejes said. "Ironically, the AIDS crisis played a big movement in that, after the first couple of years, it really injected a really strong dose of activism in the gay community."
Although Fejes credits the AIDS crisis with mobilizing the LGBT community, his class reviews a history of activism starting before the Stonewall riots in 1969.
The riots, which took place in New York City, were a response to a police raid on a gay bar in Greenwich Village called the Stonewall Inn. One of the first assignments in the class is watching a documentary on the riots.
But one of the most interesting assignments Fejes gives students is to produce their own videos. He recalls when a group of three or four students made a video on the history of gay pornography.
"It was funny, before they showed the video, the students in the class had to sign a waiver," Fejes said.
He also recalls a handful of students coming out to the class during the time they were taking it, as well as a transsexual woman who learned to accept her identity.
When he started teaching it in the ’80s, however, the LGBT community was far less visible and accepted than it is today.
"Much of the focus on the class back then was on negative stereotypes in the media," Fejes said. "AIDS brought out a lot of people. Up to that time you could be gay and nobody had to know about it."
Fejes also credits the media with bringing more exposure to the community and teaches students why that is both helpful and hurtful.
"The more we become mainstreamed, the more we think about our community," Fejes said. "A lot of people feel the community is losing its identity, we’re no longer as tight as we were."
René Perez - a queer 19-year-old FAU student majoring in Spanish and minoring in women’s studies - likes the exposure.
"You know every community has their stereotypes, has their issues, but we’re finally getting what we fought for," Perez said. "People are recognizing us, they’re knowing who we are, and I feel like that’s going to pave the way for us into acceptance in society."
Perez also believes the media’s representation of the LGBT community has improved in his lifetime.
"It’s gotten better I guess, when I used to see gays in any kind of media it was very flamboyant gay homosexuals and whatnot, now there’s more of a mix," Perez said. "They’re starting to portray more clean cut gay guys that are professionals like doctors and lawyers that are very respectable, but like to have fun."
But the class isn’t taught for LGBT students specifically, Fejes encourages students of all gender identities and sexual orientations to take his class.
"I’m not in there to change anybody’s mind," Fejes said. "But on the other hand, I do want them to become aware of other perspectives."