Living in Valpo

By: Valparaiso Human Relations Council Last Updated: April 30, 2010

This story is shared by Valparaiso’s Human Relations Council in an effort to promote dialogue about diversity and acceptance. We offer real life narratives to gain a better understanding of one other and create a more welcoming community. The ideas and opinions in this narrative are those of the author and are not necessarily those of the Humans Relations Council or ValpoLife.

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I moved to Valpo a few years ago and was looking forward to joining a vibrant community. I am an accomplished professional woman who has long been an active volunteer in my community. I’m also a VU alum. I’ve moved several times, so I know what it takes to get settled into a new place and rebuild my life. I’m also single.

It was June. At work, I mentioned that I was missing the annual Gay Pride Parade that runs through my former city neighborhood. The parade is the culmination of a week of celebrations and acceptance of people of all kinds. I said that one of my favorite entries in the parade is a parents group with a huge banner saying “gay or straight, our kids are great.”

After that, the word around work was that I am a lesbian. I wouldn’t mind the rumor if it were true, but it’s not. What an incredible assumption to make! I was just dumbfounded. Yes, the Pride Parade ran through my old neighborhood but so did two neighborhood parades, a marathon, and countless summer festivals. Yes, I lived near a lot of gay people – because I lived in a densely populated neighborhood of a major city. More people (of all types) live within easy walking distance of my old place than live in all of Valparaiso. Valpo is a much smaller town that I realized.

It gets worse. In the time that I’ve lived here, I’ve heard that I am sleeping with the contractor that worked on my house (how cliché). I’ve also heard that I am sleeping with every one of my happily married male coworkers (how unprofessional, immoral and unethical).

Do people in Valpo really have nothing better to do with their time than spread rumors about other people? How about feeding the hungry? Housing the homeless? Healing the sick? And why implicate other innocent people – and possibly cause tension in their marriages – in some sordid lie just because you are uncomfortable with a woman being single? What’s the big deal? I just don’t get it.

I’m also stunned by how no one has asked me if I am interested in meeting someone or suggested ways for me to do so. Maybe people think they are being polite by not asking, but asking would be much more polite than spreading rumors attacking my character.

In many ways, I am part of a privileged majority – I’m white, college-educated, intelligent, gainfully employed, own my own home. If this is the way that I have been treated, I am afraid to think about how other, less privileged single women are treated.

I’ve heard debate about growth in Valpo and dreams for the future. Do we have enough big box stores or too many? Do we want to create economic opportunity by building the Iliana expressway and train routes to Chicago? Well, no highway can open people’s minds. No train route can prevent people from spreading malicious lies. Small-mindedness will shape Valpo’s future much more than any economic development. What – and who – will Valpo look like in the future?