We all celebrate the same holiday

    Valentine’s Day usually conjures up images of hearts and chocolates, cute cards and romantic dates that culminate in a moonlit walk in the park. Yet this national holiday of love and romance may have more subtle meanings for those of the gay and lesbian community.

    “”I don’t know that there’s qualitatively any difference at all … in the ways that the holiday is celebrated,”” said Shawn Travers, director of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Office. “”The only difference is, I think, that people in the lesbian/gay community have to be more aware of how they express affection in public.””

    However, John Muir College Housing Adviser Seth Klonsky sees no difference between how the two groups deal with the holiday.

    “”Since most openly gay people living in relatively accepting communities are already out and about as couples, Valentine’s Day has become much the same holiday for both groups — gay and straight,”” said Klonsky, who is openly gay.

    Alice Johnson, a sophomore at Thurgood Marshall College, said that she and her girlfriend celebrated Valentine’s Day last year with flowers and dinner. This year, however, they have decided to forego the gifts and romance and go see “”The Vagina Monologues”” instead.

    Although their ways of celebrating Valentine’s Day may not be very different from those of heterosexuals, the views of the gay/lesbian community toward this day are more varied. Some feel that there is no difference in the meaning of Valentine’s Day, while others see the holiday as discriminatory against their sexual orientation.

    “”I think a lot of people in the LGBT community would probably use [Valentine’s Day] as an example of another way the ‘greater society is putting down the gay population,'”” Klonsky said. “”On the other hand, I think a lot of people … think of Valentine’s Day as an excuse to go on nice, cute dates with their boyfriends and girlfriends just like everyone else.””

    Still others, like many in the heterosexual community, have different views based on personal beliefs about the holiday.

    “”I think I view [Valentine’s Day] differently just because I read ‘The Vagina Monologues’ and I wrote a huge paper on it, so I think of Valentine’s Day as more like a day to think about other things and other responsibilities instead of going around buying flowers and cupid hearts,”” Johnson said.

    According to Travers, gay/lesbian couples might be more inclined to spend Valentine’s Day at specific restaurants, movie theaters or clubs known to be safe and friendly. Possibilities include areas such as Hillcrest, Mission Hills, Bankers Hill and Azalea Park. The restoration of the neighborhood in the Azalea Park neighborhood has been partly due to the numbers of gay/lesbian households moving into the area. According to Klonsky, La Jolla is generally a more conservative area.

    Couples can also opt to go to more upscale places with more quality service.

    “”I think the more upscale the place is, your chances of experiencing any kind of reaction from the staff is a lot lower because you’re paying for such a high quality service,”” Travers said. “”When you pay for a $300 dinner and you’re holding your lover’s hand, they’re not going to say a word.””

    For couples who are not yet open about their sexuality, they may decide to celebrate in quieter, less conspicuous settings. In these cases, Valentine’s Day becomes much more private for these couples in an effort to avoid going public or running into familiar faces.

    “”‘The love that dare not speak its name’ … it’s an old-school reference to homosexuality,”” Travers said. “”People that may not be out of the closet but are in a relationship may feel that this holiday forces them to hide their love even further.””

    Yet as Travers emphasizes, hiding one’s love and celebrating a romantic relationship quietly is not limited to gays and lesbians who have not “”come out of the closet.”” The same analogy can be applied to any couple that is not specifically open about their relationship.

    One problem that the gay/lesbian community might face is the commercialization of Valentine’s Day, which is geared much more toward heterosexuals, who constitute a greater percentage of the general population. Finding gifts and cards for a gay/lesbian partner may be harder than finding one for someone who is straight.

    “”We have a very heterocentric view on everything,”” Klonsky said. “”The wider hetero community markets to the heteros and the gay community markets to the homos.””

    There are a variety of stores and Web sites that market toward the gay/lesbian community. Some examples include http://www.10percent.com and http://www.kleptomaniac.com, which carry books, gifts and home decorations targeting gays and lesbians. Some commercial gifts that were “”designed”” for heterosexuals, however, can be used across sexual orientations.

    “”If I’m involved with a man … I can buy something that was ‘designed for a woman’ to give to a man, and a lot of times you wouldn’t know that it was designed to be [that way],”” Travers said. “”Only when it’s from ‘that special woman in your life’ to ‘that special man’ that a lot of gifts get their connotations.””

    Valentine’s Day may also take on a different meaning for gays and lesbians who decide to use it as a “”coming out”” day. Klonsky remembers that the Gay-Straight Alliance ran a local “”coming out”” event on Valentine’s Day during his senior year in high school.

    “”I think that for people who followed that advice, Feb. 14 would have a very significant meaning and a very different meaning from most people,”” Klonsky said.

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