March 19, 2012
Our Runaway Youths: What Schools, Communities, and Parents Can Do To Protect LGBTQQ Children ~ The Sanctuary House
I wrote this proposal for a class. My mother opened up the first runaway shelter in Pennsylvania. It was called, “The Sanctuary House ” I dedicate my proposal to her.
To: Executive Director, The Threshold Foundation
From: Danelle Wolfe, Proposal Writer
Parents can do to protect LGBTQQ children ~
The Sanctuary House Project
Homeless and runaway children were seldom reported but, have existed as part of our history since the early settlement of the United States. In 2009, there was an estimated one to three million runaway and homeless youths in Americaat any point in time. Some of the reasons are: emotional or physical abuse, problems in school or home and even feeling of not fitting in. Within this group are the LGBTQQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Queer and Questioning) individuals. Our society is based on the two gender concept and countless youths fall out side of the “norm.” As a result these children have experienced ridicule and discrimination possibly from friends and family resulting in running away or worse, taking their own life as they try to escape the hate and end up on the streets or dead. It is the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer, adolescents who are at a higher risk for abuse while living on the streets.
The Sanctuary House will represent a safe haven for those in need. The immediate goals for this preventive program are to save a child from living on the streets, give encouragement to be who they are, teach communication skills, and educate the community. It will be a twenty four, seven days a week shelter for teens in need of assistance with an open door policy. Once established in a secure setting these children ranging from ten to eighteen will be fed, housed, and counseled. The concept is to have communication reopened between a youth and their family. One long term goal is to reunite the family unit. The next stage would be to focus on establishing training for fifteen to eighteen year olds in connection with instituting employment opportunities within the community. The local Transportation Department working with the project, within a thirty mile radius is willing to create passes for the youths after establishing employment.
We as a team will participate in the construction, design and implementation of the project. I would like extra participation dealing with the context issues of the project. Many local businesses are willing to begin the process of contracting the necessary materials to begin work immediately. The planning proposal will be read by the internal staff members, decision makers within our organization and after approval it will be sent to Threshold Foundation: The Queer Youth Fund for a requested grant of $10,000.00 to begin the project. The research for the program will involve statistics on the suicide rate of the homeless youths as well as reviewing present programs similar to The Sanctuary House, and examining the high statistics of the LGBTQQ runaway youth problem of today. “One in every seven youth will run away from home by the age of 18 (The National Runaway Switchboard, 2001).” The statistics as of 2009 were clarified and reported as children between the ages of ten to eighteen run away.
Children whom reside in The Sanctuary House will attend school, live in a learning environment which will include weekly discussions on responsible and healthy behavioral activities that are necessary for personal relationships and daily family meetings with a child’s parents and/or other family members. Monthly speakers who are anticipating working with the project will discuss the trials and tribulations of the community through education of the current AIDS issues/other gender related problems, and incorporate community events for example, by participating in Pridefest. A local organization, Also Youth, has a drop-in center that will work with the project in referring adolescents in need of help. There will be four certified counselors (two female, two male) that will live on the premises alternating weekends with four part time counselors (two female, two male), also certified.
Something to keep in mind:
For every dollar invested in a child, there is a seven-dollar return for society…
Thank you for taking the time to read this proposal.
T. Danelle Wolfe
We Are Here 1432 Hope Street
Sarasota Florida 54321
(FX) 555 -987-4321
Our Runaway Youths: What Schools, Communities, and Parents Can Do To Protect LGBTQQ Children ~ The Sanctuary House
Prepared for: The Threshold Foundation
Written by Danelle Wolfe
Date of application: 3/19/2010
Name of organization: Threshold Foundation
Purpose of grant: WAH will utilize The Queer Youth Fund’s resources towards the project of a housing organization geared towards the LGBTQQ’s (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning) runaway youths in our community.
Address of organization:PO Box 29903San Francisco,CA94129
Telephone number: (415) 561-6400
Contact person and title: Threshold Foundation, Director of Fundraising
Is your organization an IRS 501(c)(3) not-for-profit?(Yes or No):Yes
Grant request: $10,000.00
Check one: General support: N/A Project support: X
Dates covered by project budget (mo/day/year): April 2010 – March 2011
Project name: Our Runaway Youths: What Schools, Communities, and Parents can do to protect LGBTQQ children ~
The Sanctuary House Project
Table Of Contents
Project Description I……………………………………………………2
Project Goals and Objectives……………………………………..…….3
Plan for Measuring Results……………………………………………..12
Conclusion: The Success of The Sanctuary House…………………….14
We Are Here Inc. (WAH), a non profit 501 (c)(3) organization has been part of theSarasotaFloridacommunity since 2007. Our creed is to shelter the homeless youths (10-18 years old) in the LGBTQQ community, feed, counsel, reunite families and/or and train them for employment purposes, and provide medical care. We respect their individual sexual identity/gender and support these adolescents providing a tangible connection to available community relief systems.
Our Vision Statement
WAH aspires to be a valuable source of social services committed to enhancing the life and personal dignity of LGBTQQ youth’s.
Our mission is to offer community services intended to create a structured, compassionate, and safe atmosphere through which LGBTQQ youth and their families may obtain awareness, individual growth, encouragement, skills and personal success.
We Are Here Incorporated
Legal Form of Business
The Sanctuary House will be a 501(c)3 not–for–profit organization.
I. PROJECT DESCRIPTION
Statement of need
Our society is based on the two gender concept and countless youths fall out side of the “norm” and as a result these children, the LGBTQQ youths have experienced ridicule and discrimination possibly from friends/family resulting in running away or worse, taking their own life as they try to escape the hate and end up on the streets or dead.
Homeless and runaway children were seldom reported but, have existed as part of our history since the early settlement of theUnited States. Presently, at this very minute, inFloridathere are 5,949 runaway youths that have been reported. In 2008, “The U.S Dept. of Health and Human Services estimates there was an estimated 1.6 to 2.8 million runaway and homeless youths in America at any point in time…Our analysis of the available research suggests that between 20 percent and 40 percent of all homeless youth identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). Given that between 3 percent and 5 percent of theU.S.population identifies as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, it is clear that LGBT youth experience homelessness at a disproportionate rate.”
Some reasons given are:
Emotional or physical abuse
Problems in school or home
To be with others people who are supportive and
encouraging of sexual identity/gender
To be within places that are distractions from
Feeling of not fitting in
These young people have been classified as, “Policy Focal Runaways…defined as minors who, along with fitting the broad scope definition of runaways, are also endangered due to not having a familiar, safe place to stay.”
It is the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning adolescents who are at a higher risk for abuse while living on the streets. It is these reasons that Reed explained, “The psychological effects of victimization, rejection and social stigma, resulting in feelings of isolation, experience by many gay and lesbian youth constitute what Meyer (1995) terms as ‘minority stress’. It is because of this stress and isolation, that lesbian and gay youth are at increased risk for other factors such as anxiety and depression, academic problems, substance abuse problems, sexual abuse, running away, homelessness and prostitution, HIV infection, and suicide. Identity development and family and peer rejection are the main contributing factors in isolating gay and lesbian youth.” In order to ensure suicide prevention, our organization will serve the LGBTQQ youths and will partner with theFlorida’s statewide suicide prevention agencies.
The Sanctuary House acknowledges the fact that our society is not perfect. It is crucial to study the negative aspects concerning this issue in order to better serve this community. “Travers and Paoletti (1999) conclude that an understanding of the effects of this social world is vital in understand the concerns, behaviors, and emotional needs of lesbian and gay youth. This understanding is paramount, in trying to help them avoid becoming street involved.”
We Are Here, Inc. (WAH) is requesting a grant for a preventive program to get youths off the streets, reinforce encouragement to be who they are, teach communication skills, offer training for employment, educate the community, and reunite families. Our mission statement guarantees the helping of hands up and not the helping of hand outs.
Project Goals and Objectives
Short Term Goals
Lao Tzu, a wise man, once stated, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Our short term objectives are based on the immediate needs of the homeless youth. Whereas, the long term goals are to reunite families (if this is not plausible, because the adolescent is unwilling or the family circumstances is hazardous, foster care is an option), institute an employment program and incorporate community educational events. Through this project, as objectives are met, the confirmation of the success of the program will be certain. These are listed below.
Create a twenty four, seven days a week shelter for teens in need of assistance with an open door policy.
Develop a safe haven for those in need.
Provide food, donated clothing, shelter, medical assistance and toiletries.
Create and foster communication with family members, community members and academic members.
Provide counseling and educational materials.
Establish training for fifteen to eighteen year olds in connection with instituting employment opportunities within the community.
Implement training for all staff members to effectively serve LGBT youth
Create passes in a joint venture with the local Transportation Department working with the project: with in a thirty mile radius for the youths after establishing employment.
It is imperative to get these juvenile’s off the streets and supply a safe environment in which to concentrate on dilemmas and solutions within the walls of The Sanctuary House. They need time to focus on their future goals rather than struggling daily on the streets.
March 1, 2009 we constructed a committee for implementing and approving initial decisions regarding the program and begin contacting local establishments requesting participation in the program. With this in mind, we have successfully entered into a joint venture with the City ofSarasotaas of July 2010 to lease the property seen above. The eighteen units are fully operational and are on 1.11 acres on Sarasota’s North Trail. Within the office area is a two bedroom unit where employees will reside. The project manager will reside on the premises within the eighteenth unit.
Supplies for Shelter Participating Business Donations Item of donation
1. Cots or Sleeping MatsBerkeleySurplus Store Military Pads
2. Blankets/Linens Bed, bath & Beyond Blankets/Sheets
3. Bottled or Potable Water Culligan man Fresh Water/Containers
4. Medical Supplies SarasotaMemorialHospital Emergency Medical
5. Eating Utensils
6. Towels & Toiletries for
7. Sanitation and Cleaning Walmart Cleaning Materials
8. Cooking equipment
9. Communication Equip.
10. TDD Telephone
12 Foods items 7-eleven Corporation Various Food Sysco Food Products
13. Cleaning Laundry/linens Clean Step Living USA Services
Additional Donors and Sponsors
Gamma Mu Foundation
GreaterSarasotaChamber of Commerce
Sarasota County Department of Health
The shelter is in need of minor renovations and the City has recommended splitting the cost that will begin on September 2010 and will be completed for the opening on February 1, 2011.
Provision of food
Whether it is one or fifty youths residing in the program each one will require three square three meals a day. The project will implement a communal effort philosophy in meal preparation with donated items from local businesses such as 7-eleven and grant funds. Local churches and temples have agreed to donate lunches for the employed youths.
The conditions living on the street make it literally impossible to have clean clothes without holes. Arrangements have been confirmed with local businesses and charities such as Salvation Army and Good Will to donate clothing to the project on a bi-weekly basis.
Every child who enters the program must pass medical clearance by an in-house qualified General Practitioner and a Registered nurse. They test for contagious diseases and review the physical well being of the adolescent youth.
Once a youth has had their basic needs tended to the next step is to place them into counseling. It is critical to find an explanation of their actions in order to help in the long term plan of reestablishing contact with their family members and/or establishing a new life. If a young person is fifteen or older, counseling is first and foremost then training for employment.
During this stage, in October 2010 we will begin the hiring process and identify complications and solutions.
Each youth will receive counseling from a licensed psychologist. Counseling sessions will begin the day after a youth enters the program and will continue weekly. Upon participating in the project educational material is distributed and they are notified that certain topics will arise during discussion time.
Youths whom reside in The Sanctuary House will live in a learning environment which will include weekly discussions on responsible and healthy behavioral activities that are necessary for personal relationships and daily family meetings with a child’s parents and/or other family members.
Monthly speakers who are anticipating working with the project will discuss the trials and tribulations of the community through education of the current AIDS issues/other gender related problems, and incorporate community events for example, by participating in Pridefest.
A local organization, Also Youth, has a drop-in center that will work with the project in referring adolescents in need of help starting on July 1, 2011. There will be four certified counselors (two female, two male) that will live on the premises alternating weekends with four part time counselors (two female, two male), also certified.
In December 2010, the coordinating committee will finalize the updates for the WAH website for the up and coming program of The Sanctuary House and begin preliminary meetings with the local school board. We will also participate with the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network’s (GLSEN) annual school climate report.
We will implement a training program for all staff members to successfully serve the LGBTQQ adolescents in January 2011.
Adolescent youths will be required to immediately enroll in school within our designated site. It is crucial that a young person doesn’t lose any educational benefits due to their circumstances. The Schoolhouse Link Program will be a partnership between the The Sanctuary House theSarasota County School Board. The program serves as a liaison and provides services to help families and youth that are homeless and in transition. The program’s goal is to ensure that students in transition are able to enroll, attend and succeed in school. Schoolhouse Link supports each student by helping create educational stability and by removing any barriers limiting their success.
At this stage, help will be given in preparing the older juveniles for employment. Daily general training will help in the transition from homeless to a confident employee resulting
in an independent individual. The creating of the bus pass program which will be implemented as a joint venture with the local Transportation Department working with the project: within a thirty mile radius for the youths after establishing employment.
Working with local businesses, the planning proposal will help create the unity of community actions. These establishments will contract youths for entry level positions within their companies.
We are all family
Annual Pridefest inSarasotais an occasion for the entire community to come together in acceptance. Not only will we have a booth promoting the program along with educational brochures but, our clientele will be on a waiting list to participate as volunteers.
Effects of Inaction
Consequences of inaction adversely affect the community in which we reside. Therefore, we can not sit by and watch our children jeopardize their lives. The LGBTQQ homeless adolescents have been reported at a greater risk of sexual exploitation when living on the streets compared to non-LGBTQQ individuals. The psychological issues, the medical issues and even spiritual issues of
our youth will continue to debilitate before our very eyes as they continue to live on the streets. Alone they have no voice. Our agency is about giving them the chance to be heard, to be safe and to continue living without fear. “Each year, there are approximately 2 million homeless and runaway youths in theUnited States.” If we do nothing, these statistics will only increase again.
Shannon Moriarty commented, “One study noted that of the youth engaging in survival sex, 48 percent reported exchanging sex for housing or food, 22 percent traded sex for drugs, and 82 percent traded sex for money. 40-60 percent of homeless youth have experienced physical abuse and 17-35 percent have experienced sexual abuse. These young people are much more vulnerable to survival sex, prostitution, and sexual exploitation.”
Submit Grant Proposal
Joint Venture contract signed with Sarasota City Notification
Notification Of Construction Bid
October – December 2010
Finalize Updates for Web Site/School Board Meetings
Training for Employees
Prepare Results Report
Key Staff (Resumes are attached)
Who’s on Board: Ficticious name. I made them up.
Melissa Leonard, LCSW
The executive director and one of The Sanctuary House founders,Sharon has worked for the past 15 years with low-income families and youth around the issues of poverty, abuse and neglect, substance abuse, mental illness and homelessness.
Iris Jackson, MA, M.Div.
A former social worker and mental health counselor, Iris is a career coach and life planning consultant with Bell Investment Advisors, Inc. She is the former board president of the Berkeley Ecumenical Chaplaincy to the Homeless.
Marie is the case manager and supervisor for The Sanctuary House.
Patrick Edwards, MSW
A writer, Patrick previously worked as a social worker with LGBTQQ homeless adults inNew York City.
Sarah Kaiser, MA
Photographer and long time volunteer with homeless youth in Sarasota, she is one of The Sanctuary House founders.
As Youth Services Coordinator, Heather is helping to create New Generation: the Future is Now for Trans. Formerly a supervisor in the The Sanctuary House shelter, she has been volunteering and organizing in solidarity with historically neglected communities for 10 years.
A teacher recently retired toBerkeley after 30 years of teaching around the world, she is a tutor in the local school system.
Kenneth is the shelter manager for The Sanctuary House. He serves in this position as a member of the Lutheran Volunteer Corps.
A Youth Counselor for The Sanctuary House , Peter holds a Master’s degree in counseling gender psychology and has been working in the field since 2000. He has worked as a mental health rehabilitation specialist and provided therapy to elementary school children living in theSarasota area.
The volunteer coordinator for The Sanctuary House.
II. PLAN FOR MEASURING RESULTS
We will have continuous reporting of the effects of our program regarding clients, schools and the community.
Survey present programs similar to The Sanctuary House, local organizations
Examine the behavior patterns of the LGBTQQ runaway
Monthly meetings with local business owners, religious organizations, and school districts
Assessment of achievement scores and grade levels
Analyze the visits of family members, amount of incoming/outgoing calls by youths, and surveys completed by parent’s
Quarterly reporting of local organizations and schools involved in the project
Weekly interviews with the youth clientele
Bi-Weekly meeting of employees including surveys
“One in every seven youth will run away from home by the age of 18 (The National Runaway Switchboard, 2001).” The statistics as of 2009 were updated and reported as children between the ages of ten to eighteen run away.
The purpose of this program is to assist the LGBTQQ youth in becoming productive members of society while increasing public awareness of the crisis which is plaguing our children. By creating and developing The Sanctuary House children between the ages of ten to eighteen will have a choice in their life, to begin a new journey. The final product will be saving a life.
We could not provide the services we do without foundations such as yours, private and public donor contributions to fund our programs. State, City and County provide what they can. Other resources are The Sarasota County commission which granted $30,000 in funding last year used for contract services. Many agencies formed the Project Initiate and established a prevention contract in which we are associated and we were granted $45,000. Within the past three years WAH has received tax payer funding in grants that were from $5,000 to $8,000 per grant.
|General Operating Support|
|Joint Venture Lease||8,000|
|Insurance & taxes||6,000|
|Consultants & professional fees||25,000|
|TOTAL OPERATING EXPENSE||$170,200|
For every dollar invested in a child, there is a seven-dollar return for society. (Annan, K., United Nations Secretary-General Address to the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Children, May 2001).
Conclusion: The Success of The Sanctuary House
Clearly, thirty five million dollars are given every year by the government to address the homeless youth dilemma, but few of these funds reach the LGBTQQ adolescent community. Most support is through private grants, donations and fund raising.
These young people are in dire need of support through means of family, community, academic resources and social service programs such as ours. As we address the emotional, physical and spiritual effects of our children living on the streets and the results come to light. We are fighting for the healthy development of these LGBTQQ youths within safe environments and we need your help.
Flowers, R.B. (2001). Runaway Kids and Teenage Prostitution : America’s Lost, Abandoned, and Sexually Exploited Children. Retrieved April 2, 2010, from http://site.ebrary.com.library.esc.edu/lib/empire/docDetail.action?docID=10004890&p00=teenage%20runaway
Meyer, I.H. (1995). Minority stress and mental health in gay men. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, (36), 38-56.
National Runaway Switchboard. (2010). Retrieved April 2, 2010, from http://www.nrscrisisline.org/
Podschun, G.D. (1993). Teen Peer Outreach-Street Work Project: HIV Prevention Education for Runaway and Homeless Youth. Public
Health Reports, (108) 2, 150-155. Retrieved March 30, 2010, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/4597319
Reed, M. (2009). : Issues and Social Stigmas which Cause Gay and Lesbian Youth to be at increased Risk for Becoming Street Involved. Retrieved March 31, 2010, from http://www.sfu.ca/pridehouse/documents/pridehouseappx3.pdf
Statistics – Runaway and Homeless Youth. (2010). Retrieved April 3, 2010, from http://1736familycrisiscenter.org/quotes1a2.htm
Travers, R., and Paoletti, D. (1999). The lesbian, gay & bisexual youth program (LGBYP): A model for common communities seeking to improve the quality of life for lesbian, gay & bisexual youth. The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, (8) (i4) 293. Retrieved April 1, 2010, from http://www.questia.com/googleScholar.qst;jsessionid=L2ML3h 3CMWPpLdbpKB0JL2y62FQTSMDpJLj2dVypLzZjpq4xGjL2!-348092591!948790962?docId=5001896464
#1 in Commercial Real Estate Online. (2010). Retrieved April 2, 2010, from http://www.loopnet.com/Listing/14948076/2413-N-Tamiami-Trail-Sarasota-FL/
Research has recognized doubt in focusing on meanings that emerges regarding the female sexuality within the television program Law & Order SVU specifically the character, Detective Olivia Benson. In order to examine the show’s meanings about female (lesbian/heterosexual?) sexuality, first I need to explore the ambivalence that surfaces followed by analyzing what this ambivalence means. Specific examples will be used from the show to build the argument. The virgin or whore dichotomy and applying lifestyle feminism will also be explored.
The meanings that emerge about the mixed messages of female sexuality for Detective Olivia Benson on Law & Order SVU are depicted through her experiences, how she expresses herself through her hair style and how she is represented as a sexual being in the media. Sexuality is not discussed in reference to her sexual orientation, but popular culture determined it. In season 11 episode 13 “P.C,” Benson asked, “Do you ever get a gay vibe from me?” Stabler said, “Would it matter if I did?” She responded, “You’re not answering the question.” He said, “It’s not like you had a lotta luck with guys.” She replied, “It’s called being married to the job.”
The ambiguity of this character means opening the door to individual interpretation. Benson’s sexuality portrays her as an object of desire in fandoms and blog discussions. She is depicted as being almost celibate as she has no boyfriend or girlfriend. This intentional move on the producer’s part leads the viewer to use their imagination in answering the questions of her female sexuality. This vagueness of “is she or isn’t she” has resulted in a fandom who through the shows mixed messages, sees a lesbian. It is the audience that takes these potential subtle clues and creates a lesbian sexual identity for Benson through subtext, lack of a private life and by portraying a masculine side of a woman.
From a feminist perspective the ambiguity represents a strong and independent woman who has joined the boy’s club in a patriarchal police department. On the other hand, according to Meyer (2010), “Lesbian characters, whether they are regular cast members or minor characters featured in a few episodes, tend to be portrayed as lacking sexuality (i.e., they are rarely represented in intimate relationships or situations), personal rights (i.e., they are treated as undesirable and avoided by other characters), and are often afraid of being publicly exposed based on their sexuality (Moritz 1994). (p. 236).
A deeper examination of the ambivalence means that the message of diversity is being given in delicate doses to the audience. According to Inness (2008), “The message that diversity is good (so long as everyone is attractive) is undercut by the pattern that…nonhetrosexual females are less attractive” (p.140). Therefore, SVU depicts a complex character that depending on one’s perspective. She could be a lesbian or could be a straight woman who is attractive and intelligent working in a man’s world. Could it be that her sexuality is hidden in the background to promote a lifestyle feminist? She may look like a lesbian, but she is straight. Her character falls under the category called, lifestyle feminism. As Cuklanz & Moorti (2006) detailed:
“Lifestyle feminism is characterized by independent, assertive women who find self actualization through work outside the home, often in male-dominated professions. Olivia Benson fits within this tradition. She is an unmarried white woman, the lone female in her squad. Benson is a strong, capable detective who has very little personal life beyond the workplace, in strong contrast to her male partner Elliot Stabler. Lifestyle feminism narratives underscore women’s negotiations within the family unit to carve out a space of self-determination and Benson fits neatly within this idiom” (p. 305).
Could it be that the producer’s feel any romantic feelings could interrupt her career as a detective which in turn means, a woman cannot have it all? Or could it be that the detective is following typical stereotypes of a female officer portrayed on television? Detardo-Bora (2009) commented: The researchers studied the content of ten prime time television crime dramas. Of the sixty nine characters they observed, female criminal justice professionals were portrayed as young, White, and single. The issue of socialization and its connection to the media is a focus point regarding how people learn sex roles. It is through the media that female characters are portrayed with the same male behaviors and characteristics of their male counterparts. Detardo-Bora (2009) also observed, “Although a number of research studies have found distinct differences between male and female behaviors as portrayed on television, in this study, many of the female characters were depicted similarly to male characters (p. 163).
It all began with her hair from the first season to the current thirteenth season that has drastically changed from the look of a dyke to a more feminine appearance with longer hair. This has been due to the actress’s input into the progression of the character according to Russo (2007), “As the story goes, Hargitay, uncomfortable with aspersions cast on her own heterosexuality by her character’s gender nonconformity and lesbian following, systematically orchestrated Olivia’s “de-dykification” (p. 169).
It appears that both fans and scholars have questioned the ambivalence that surfaces in describing Detective Benson:
- Benson is portrayed as having ex-boyfriends
- No long standing relationship
- Mysterious looks between Benson and Alex (female ADA)
- Eleven seasons with short hair
- Always wearing a leather jacket
Throughout the series the character portrays maternal instincts that seem to hide her repressed feminine sexuality, yet continues to show her empowerment through her freedom and independence. A running gag throughout the series, as Benson puts it, “Why does everyone think I’m a lesbian?” Russo (2009) commented, “Her uniform includes t-shirts, sweaters, slacks and sensible shoes-no heels, no frills, and little jewelry except for what appears to be a man’s watch.” She has an unsuccessful dating pattern leading to the impression she is straight, yet gives images such as dress, male characteristics and behaviors referencing a different look at the character’s sexuality.
In addition to hair style, the wardrobe and behaviors of the character is considered to be masculine, as detective Benson’s image appears to be a dyke wearing tight t-shirts and according to Angie (2006), “…she is one of the few characters on TV to exhibit what are often considered to be d**e characteristics–with short hair, a leather jacket, and a gun at her hip, Olivia sits with legs apart, commanding the space around her.”
It is apparent that Detective Benson’s dilemma lies in the virgin/whore dichotomy. According to Hamad (2010), “Women’s sexuality is framed in one of two ways: virgin or whore, there is no in between…” Is the character then considered a virgin? Gottschall, Allison, Rosa, and Klockeman (n.d.) defined it as:
“The main idea is that men and/or societies divide women into two binary types: virgins and whores. The former type encompasses characters who are nurturing, “good,” and who express their sexualities within culturally sanctioned bounds. In practice, this means that “virgins” typically express their sexualities, if they express them at all, within marriage or another type of culturally sanctioned monogamous union. Women who fail to embody this ideal are “whores” they are explicitly or symbolically immoral and dangerously concupiscent” (p.1).
Based on this definition the character is both. She is a sexually ambivalent character and the opposition breaks down when it is applied to a lesbian (maybe) character. She rarely expresses her sexuality and doesn’t flirt (virgin) and is not in a relationship (whore) therefore, because she doesn’t fulfill the qualifications she is neither symbolically a whore nor a virgin, but both. Since Detective Benson is a good girl there are limitations placed on her sexual feelings and desires resulting in having a cloudy sexuality. The dichotomy is reconfigured to balance both the virgin and the whore within one character.
In Season 7 Episode 3, 911, the show portrayed Detective Benson going on a date with an unknown man, but it was quickly interrupted by the call of duty. Benson depicts her natural feminine sexuality by depicting maternal instincts as she wore a strapless black evening gown throughout the episode while speaking on the phone to a young girl being held captive. As she hears the young girls horrific nightmare there is a close up of her quivering lips emphasizing her womanhood, potential motherhood and nurturer. The child asks her if she likes children and she responded, “I love them and would love to have a child.” As the girl’s cell phone begins to die, she’s sleepy and hungry then fades away. Detective Benson pleads, “Baby, please don’t leave me now,” as there is an extreme close up of her lips again. She then said, “Talk to me, sing to me” showing maternal instincts.
As the years passed in the series, this character is rarely seen or has spoken about being in an intimate relationship making her a virgin. Yet, this myth can be broken by Season 9 Episode 16, Closet, as she confesses to having a boyfriend, Kurt Moss, while speaking with an FBI agent. The undertone of sexual heterosexual activity with a male journalist was apparent and brought to the surface because of a current case. Benson stated, “We’ve been dating for a couple of months.” The FBI agent responded, “Who knows about it? She responded, “No one, he’s my boyfriend.” In one scene she gives her boyfriend a quick kiss on the lips reinforcing her feminine heterosexual sexuality. But, since she did not marry him and based on the definition, she is still considered part whore.
Yet, a different perspective shows subtext of lesbianism as intense eye contact was viewed in 2003 season five episode four “Loss,” Alex goes into witness protection program and Benson asks, “For how long?” In season two episode five, “Baby Killer,” Elliot, Benson’s partner invites Alex to go out for a drink with them to celebrate, Alex turns 180 degrees to look at Benson, who nods her head while smiling at Benson and accepts, “Sure.” According to Angie (2006), “It may be an indication of how far we need to go in the portrayal of lesbians and bisexual women on television that viewers get excited about a character like Benson despite no clear evidence that Law and Order’s Detective Olivia Benson’s sexuality message through the media she’s gay” (p.5). In season three episode eight, “Inheritance,” the character shows masculine qualities of aggression as she runs after a perpetrator. When she catches him she forcefully throws him against a brick wall after police already stopped him. “Look at my job. I have to be aggressive and violent…” she said. There is also a stigmatism associated with the stereotype of being nurturing and consoling as she holds victims hands and tells them, “It’s not your fault.”
As in postfeminist programming, this character is the first to doubt a woman’s rape claim. This doubt in combination with other elements, help structure the contradictory feminism of in the series. According to McCall (2011), “The notion that women possess inherent qualities of femininity has dominated much of human history. Because patriarchal societies have objectified women as Other, specific traits-nurturing, passivity, and emotionality-have come to signify the feminine” (p.1). Is it possible the character is refiguring heterosexual femininity in a new way? Today’s media is intertwining gender signs, codes and symbols which includes the appearance of refiguring heterosexual femininity. This character is not meek, but strong, she is not simple minded, but intelligent, she is not dependent, but independent and she does not follow the typical standards of stereotypes defined by patriarchal society such as, motherhood. She shows her femininity sparingly and incorporates masculine traits because of the “man’s” field she has chosen, police work.
In closer examination, it is a fact that the media reflects our cultural changes. So, is it possible this character represents women of today? The answer is yes. She carries an air of traditional values regarding her nurturing nature and intertwines masculine traits such as aggression and “marrying the job” which conflicts with the stereotypes of the portrayal of women. This is a reflection of a tougher woman, a career minded intelligent woman, a woman who is willing to fight for her beliefs.
In conclusion, it seems that the process of refiguring femininity relates to the changes in work patterns and the meaning of work for women relating to career, home and womanhood. She is a single woman, a professional and is not part of the domestic world. As viewers have watched Detective Benson grow the audience sees her social construction of selfhood becoming the voice of the new woman. The character’s images have shifted mainstream thinking of what femininity should be as a subtle rebellion against the stereotypes portrayed. Could it be the end of the binary of femininity and masculinity resulting in a blend of the two within one character, a female Detective?
Angie, B. 2006. (April 21). Interesting take on Olivia Benson. Online transactions. Message posted to group. Retrieved October 5, 2011, from http://specialvictims.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=olivia&action=print&thread=1330
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Detardo-Bora, K. A. (2009). A Criminal Justice “Hollywood Style”: How Women in Criminal Justice Professions Are Depicted in Prime-Time Crime Dramas. Women & Criminal Justice, 19(2), 153-168. Retrieved September 12, 2011, from http://web.ebscohost.com.library.esc.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=10&hid=25&si d=0fd601cd-96f4-433d-a1c8-b43420b37c04%40sessionmgr14
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Lee, P. W. & Meyer, D. E. (2010). We All Have Feelings for Our Girlfriends: Progressive (?) Representations of Lesbian Lives on the The L Word. Sexuality & Culture, 14, 234–250. Retrieved September 30, 2011, from http://search.proquest.com.library.esc.edu/genderwatch/docview/749354497/fulltextPDF/1325ADC855C5D20F7D6/8?accountid=8067#
McCall, J. D. (2011). Woman or warrior? How believable femininity shapes warrior women. Retrieved December 14, 2011, from http://digitalcommons.library.unlv.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1954&context=theses dissertations
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