Thoughts on Queer Pride Days – civil discourse needed

Queer Pride Days has been at Williams for as long as any of us students have been here, and I was delighted to have the opportunity this year to express my reactions to it in the Record.

Later in this article, I want to address some general issues which could easily apply to other groups’ pride months, but I want to begin with an issue that is specifically associated with Queer Pride Days: the chalkings.

I don’t think many people here would deny the chalkings were explicit, but whether or not they were offensive would probably spark quite a debate.

Monica Martinez, a former Dean at Williams, responded to the 1995 chalkings by saying that it was not her job to tell the BGLTU what it could and could not write on the sidewalks.

Regardless of whether or not Dean Martinez was personally offended by the chalkings, the relativism she professed is dangerous because it ignores the possibility that there might be standards of decency which, if followed by all, would make our campus a better place. This is not an issue of free speech. It is an issue of polite communication and civil discourse. What bothered me about the chalkings two weekends ago was not the fact that they publicized gay and lesbian sex acts, but that they publicized sex acts at all.

Sex happens on this campus — no one will deny that — but describing it in detail for all to see is inappropriate. This holds true for straight sex and queer sex alike.

There have never been explicit “straight” chalkings, however, nor has there been anything along the lines of “Straight Pride Days.” I asked someone a few years ago why the queer community at Williams feels the need to have Pride Days while the straight community does not, and I was given the answer that I expected: Queers have traditionally been made to feel ashamed of their sexuality, and Pride Days helps queers to assure themselves that they have no need to feel ashamed.

I will not deny that queers have been publicly persecuted in the past, nor will I deny that hate crimes still occur today; but for several reasons, I think Queer Pride Days has outlived its purpose as an event to reduce shame in the queer community. First of all, there are many groups on campus that help support queers at Williams: Queer Peer Counseling, the QSA, the MCC, the BGLTU, the Dively Committee, etc.

How is it possible that despite all this, the queer community still needs “Pride Days?” The same could be asked of other minority organizations and their pride months, although in all fairness, each case should be taken separately.

Second of all, the acceptance of queers is advocated heavily by the Dean’s Office and the administration. A letter to the editor on April 21 implied that the Dean’s Office had done a shabby job of responding to the tearing of the “Queer Pride” banner last spring, but the impression I got was quite different. The Dean’s Office immediately sent out a memo to the entire student body, security was beefed-up in the Chapin Beach area, and the campus witnessed what was perhaps the single greatest outpouring of sympathy given to a group of students since the Jenness House / Dean’s Office takeover in 1988.

True, the banner-ripper was never caught, but the campus’s reaction to the crime left no doubt that the entire college was on the side of the queer community. The hate crimes which still occur here should be dealt with seriously, but they are not representative of the dominant attitude towards queers on this campus.

Leaving aside the issue of whether Queer Pride Days is needed to help queers feel accepted, what about the possibility that it is needed to inform the Williams community about queer issues? Some such issues — AIDS (as much a straight issue as a queer issue) and violence towards homosexuals are good examples — are important for everyone to be aware of and informed about, but a number of the events during Queer Pride Days this year seemed to be directed solely at publicizing queer sex acts. I do not understand what the BGLTU hopes to accomplish through this.

Lectures such as “Bound: The Lesbian Hand Job” or “Savage Nights” are not going to increase the campus’s willingness to learn about some of the more important queer issues described above.

It is my hope that in future years, the BGLTU will conduct Queer Pride Days without emphasizing private acts, will refrain from vulgar chalkings and will realize that they are accepted on this campus. True, as I said before, hate crimes may still happen, but the more civil discourse there is between the queer community and the rest of the Williams community, the fewer crimes will be committed.

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