A very famous person once said, “There’s no such thing as bad press.” It is a saying that the Bisexual Gay Lesbian Transgender Union (BGLTU) has apparently taken to heart with its chalking campaign, a mix of inspirational calls for tolerance, efforts to promote dialogue and obscene drawings of genitalia accompanied by phrases such as “boys like it up the a–,” or “This is a c–t, I like c–k.” Everyone – the BGLTU leadership included – is aware that only the offensive messages receive attention, and that this attention does not tend to be positive. Yet, the BGLTU supports members in chalking everything from “hey guys, we both love p—-y, love, the dykes,” to “Do you like anal sex? I do.” In the words of the BGLTU coordinator, “anything and everything goes.” Such an attitude reflects a disregard for decency and a lack of respect for the sensibilities of many members of our community (especially since chalkings coincide with family days and pre-frosh visits), and in doing so devastates the image of what is, perhaps, the least-accepted organization on campus.
The BGLTU coordinator acknowledges that the BGLTU has a two-dimensional reputation on campus. It throws Queer Bash (a party sexually charged in every way, from the minimalist garb of attendees to the pornography playing on huge screens), and it writes offensive things on the sidewalk (some of which Dean of the College Nancy Roseman characterized “as being of the bathroom wall variety”).
In reality, most chalkings are positive attempts at dialogue, but no one pays attention to those. In reality, the BGLTU organizes a wide variety of other events, but no one pays attention to those. In reality, the BGLTU doesn’t tell people what to write on the sidewalk, it just supports them in writing whatever they want, but no one pays attention to that. That leaves us with a final reality: to the average, uninvolved student, the BGLTU can be equated with sexually explicit attention-getting stunts.
It seems unwise for any organization, but especially for an organization struggling so mightily for acceptance on campus, to decide that if it can’t raise positive awareness, it will settle for a negative image. But the BGLTU coordinator seems thrilled, exclaiming, “we are very much enjoying the attention we are getting.” She hastens to clarify that it is not the negative attention she enjoys, it is the dialogue that is being promoted.
It seems rather naive, though, to assume that when someone is unhappy/surprised/shocked/thrilled by a BGLTU member drawing a huge vagina on the sidewalk, he will turn to a friend and say “wow, that makes me think about so many gay issues. Let’s discuss one!” A more likely portrayal of events might be “Why the hell are they doing that?” or, in the best of cases, “tee hee, look at the p—y, that’s awesome, tee hee.” Arguably, some awareness has been promoted, but it is something of a pyrrhic victory.
From a practical standpoint, supporting offensive chalkings is a terrible decision by the BGLTU. In terms of common decency, it is much worse. An explicit picture in the middle of the Science Quad, accompanied by, “This is a c–t, this c–t will define many people. I don’t like c–ts. (I’m gay.)” and then “love your cl-t” exceeds the bounds of good taste by a good margin. There are many college students who are offended by such material and are probably made uncomfortable by it.
The BGLTU may have a “right” to offend students, just as I have a “right” to walk around campus in a KKK outfit, but anyone with an iota of respect for the feelings of others should know better. Even worse, families were also on campus at the time of the chalkings. I can’t imagine taking my younger siblings or my grandparents on a tour of campus in the current environment. The BGLTU defends this on the grounds that gay pride week happens to coincide with Family Days and there is no malicious intent. But again, it takes a complete lack of respect and tolerance for one’s fellow community members, if not outright hostility, to ignore the reality that there will be a lot of non-students on campus and to disregard the change in campus culture that this entails.
Williams has been bizarrely over-tolerant of the BGLTU’s excesses. In the past, chalkings have always been left in place. This year, as the College geared up for its largest PR week of the year – two sets of pre-frosh days and Family Days – the BGLTU did not even notify the administration that chalkings would be taking place (not intentionally, merely an oversight, explains the BGLTU coordinator). When Dean Roseman looked out her window and saw obscene chalking that had “zero content in terms of queer issues,” and then received numerous e-mails complaining of offensive chalking all over campus, she consulted with other deans and made a decision to have two or three of the most offensive and least relevant chalkings removed. Associate Dean Kerry Christensen even spoke with the BGLTU coordinator, who did not have a particularly negative response to the decision. (The coordinator explains that she was shocked and did not want to respond impulsively.)
The BGLTU, in line with its ridiculously combative attitude towards the campus, responded to what the coordinator described as a “totalitarian” move by the administration and “definitely the worst censorship I’ve seen on this campus” by spending the next night chalking about censorship. A variety of articulate points were made, but entire stretches of sidewalk were also covered with strings of obscenities – the most prominent of these occupying the space between Hopkins Hall and Route 2. Many of the chalkings underscored just how poor an understanding chalkers have of the world around them. One bemoaned, in front of the library, “I’m tired of having to fight for my basic human rights.” (That must be in the UN Charter: Food, Water, Education, Democracy and Writing About Anal Sex on the Sidewalk of a Private Campus.) Another, right in front of my door, read “Will your op-ed be censored?” (Answer: yes, it has been, and to a much greater extent than the chalkings.)
Repeatedly, chalkers made the argument that the chalkings had been silenced just like members of the gay community are silenced each day. I, for one, would be pretty unhappy if I was a silenced member of the gay community and saw people compare my suffering to the way they feel when they can’t write “boys like it up the a–” on the sidewalk. But perhaps I just don’t understand the wonderful logic of the BGLTU, where infuriating people and ignoring their feelings as much as possible is the first step towards acceptance and tolerance.
When speaking to BGLTU members about the chalkings, and how little they are approved of by the campus, I was constantly challenged to “think of something better” to raise awareness on campus. I admit that I had no brilliant solution, but I don’t think that a lack of ideas for promoting a positive awareness on campus is an excuse for promoting a negative one instead. Then again, perhaps it is true that as Lee Harvey Oswald said, “there is no such thing as bad press.”