Lesbian struggle ongoing
by Anne White
Recently students have been wearing pink triangles distributed by the Lesbian Alliance in an effort to increase student awareness of the gay/lesbian liberation movement. The pink triangle, originally worn by homosexual concentration camp prisoners during World War II, has become a symbol of homosexual solidarity. As the Danish people wore the Star of David to protect their Jewish citizens, both gay and straight people are wearing the pink triangle.
This effort toward awareness responds to the batik banner depicting a defaced lesbian symbol of two women which was hung from Skinner Hall November 19, the day after the all-campus meeting. This act of intolerance was preceded by the destruction of the Lesbian Alliance bulletin board in the P.O.
These acts have been condemned in an official notice from the Dean of Students office. A petition signed by 160 Hampshire students (see Letters to the Editor) denouncing the banner and other demonstrations of prejudice was received by The News. W.A.S.H. has included the banner as an example of sexual harassment in a current newsletter.
Kathy Brandt '87, social coordinator for the Lesbian Alliance, says that the pink triangles campaign has been an attempt "to make a presence known on campus ... to let people know that there are lesbians here and that we have rights too."
She feels that there is a "pseudo-liberal" attitude on campus. This general attitude has been "if you are a lesbian, we don't want to know. If you do come out and are vocal about it, then you're going to pay by losing your friends, or being talked about and sometimes harassed openly," Brandt said.
"The bulletin board was only one of a series of incidents which have taken place this year. Lesbian students have been verbally attacked as well," she claims.
Brandt isn't surprised that the banner was hung the day after the racism meetings, but says "it upset me very much, because it means that either people aren't making the connection between racism and intolerance for homosexuals, or that they haven't learned anything from what's been happening recently."
Overall, the responses to the pink triangles, the film shown last week, the fact sheet and the workshops has been positive. Initially, there was some confusion since students thought everyone wearing a pink triangle was a lesbian. The dominant opinion seems to be, as one sophomore said, "It's a good thing if people learn something ... as long as it doesn't become trendy ... or people don't start thinking that everyone here is a lesbian."
The Lesbian Alliance has received financial assistance and support from the Dean of Students office to deal with this problem. They also showed the banner to President Kennan, who expressed regret that such intolerance exists on this campus.
Queer quarrels with community
by Julie Holley
At the onset, I must say that the following thoughts are long overdue. The reasons for my delay in expressing them to this community are many-fold. I believe it is crucial that some of these reasons are understood: Recently, a professor of mine said to me, "Your integrity is rare and refreshing but your idealism may get you in trouble." Looking back on my arrival to this community and the subsequent time I have spent here (three years) I have been a believer in the motto: "In time, things will get better." A major reason why I have not made my voice heard within this publication is because I have maintained a belief in that motto and I was under the impression (the ideal) that a women's community would work their hardest to insure the integrity and growth of each and every woman who is a part of that community For reasons that I will explain shortly, the time has come for my voice to be heard beyond the classroom and the dining hall. The second major delay has been that I thought it would be enough to educate my peers at Lesbian Alliance Workshops, within the dorm, and within the classroom. Again, my idealism has gotten in the way.
For those readers who do not know, or have not heard, I am a lesbian. The meaning of the word lesbian varies and is contingent upon who your friends are and/or your individual backgrounds. For the record, my lesbianism has everything to do with my sexuality and very little to do with my politics. In other words, I have been sexually attracted to women, have been "turned on" by women, and have enjoyed sex with women. Furthermore, I have never been attracted to or "turned on" by any male. In addition to being a lesbian, I am a feminist. Simply put, my feminism has to do with creating a world that does not abuse women or men sexually, emotionally or economically.
My purpose in giving a fundamental definition is so that it is understood what my sexuality is sustained by (my desires) and what I struggle to achieve in the political realm. Moreover, my intentions are not to spark a controversy over what is a lesbian or what is a feminist (although I believe debates and discussions about these definitions are crucial to our understanding of our individual and collective lives [by our, I mean women and men]). Rather, the definition given should be seen and should serve as a basis for groundwork which should (and I hope it does) aid the reader in deciphering the feelings and the thoughts of a particular lesbian in a particular period in time. To reinforce my perception of the world even further, I will state again a belief that has been a part of me from the time I acknowledged my sexuality up to the present: Any definition or discussion of sexuality that does not begin and is not sustained by a discussion of desire, attraction and genital pleasures is not, as far as I am concerned, a discussion or definition of sexuality. Furthermore, I will continue to resist any individual (gay/straight/bi, etc.) who maintains or encourages a discussion of sexuality that does not consider these points to be the sustaining force of any form of sexuality.
Now that you know, in part, where I am coming from, it is time to share with you an incident that served as a catalyst for this article. On Wednesday, Nov. 18, a banner was seen hanging from Skinner. I was shown the banner that afternoon by the woman who took it down upon seeing it. When I saw it I could not believe that an interconnected woman symbol with a slash through it was actually in front of me. To make certain it was real, I touched it - my disbelief became belief. The reality of what was before me made me want to vomit. It made me want to call my lover and cry and then talk about how angry the reality of the banner made me. I felt despair. I was and am profoundly disappointed in the individual(s) responsible for its creation and hanging.
The obvious implication of the banner's existence is that there is something more at work here than intolerance to non-heterosexual identities. Coexisting with that intolerance to difference is a hate and disgust that is profoundly frightening to me. This hate and disgust are not shocking to me, as they have been a part of my life ever since I have become publicly known as a lesbian. My fright stems from the reality that I am hated with such intensity. Along with that hate, I am accused of being a sinner, unnatural, sick, really needing a good fuck by some man, really needing my mother's approval (psychoanalysis anyone??).
Living with such hate, misunderstanding, righteousness, etc., is tiring. Sometimes it depresses me. Sometimes it enrages me.
At this point in my life, I feel that it is about time individuals stop hiding behind their deity so as not to acknowledge what I consider one of the most natural things I engage in. It is also about time they stop using the Bible to justify their hate - If any one of them that does this really knew the Bible, they would know that it is packed with contradictions. By the way, I believe that I can speak about the Bible critically because I was a devout Catholic for most of my life - it used to be my favorite book. Lastly, I want individuals to look at who I am and what is important to me before calling me sick or damning me to hell. If any one of you ever took the time, you would see that I am engaged in one of the healthiest relationships this world has ever known (I not only believe this, but have been told so by heterosexuals and homosexuals alike). Furthermore, I do not molest children. I must admit that I am inclined to enjoy the existence of children a great deal, particularly my niece and nephew. I am a lesbian because of how I feel toward women, not because I hate men - one of the hardest things I had to experience was watching my father die. He was one of my favorite men.
I predict that there will be a good number of people within this community who will continue to live their lives entrenched in the shortsightedness that was with them when they began reading this article. Others will react by saying, "There goes Julie being angry again" without giving any real thought to why I am angry. Self-fulfilling prophecies these are not. Unfortunately, they have been reactions that I have been privy to since I arrived at this community by both lesbians and heterosexuals alike. I am tired of it - tired of women in this community labelling me as a castrating dyke, a manhater, "too angry," "all she ever talks about is her sexuality." The fact of the matter is that I am very angry about the fact that many people here and outside of this place believe that the growth I have done as a result of my relationship with my lover, that the love I feel toward her and she toward me is immoral and disgusting. There are many things about this society that I hate - the idea that some men think that a good fuck will "cure" me is one of them. Yes, I am angry. I am angry that some of the most beautiful and happy components of my life are denied daily by this community's silence, hate, or apathy. What is immoral is that my self-respect is challenged constantly - I am told to hate myself. I am told to shut up by both lesbians and heterosexuals. Fortunately, I have enough self-respect to resist the hate and enough courage to talk about my life. I challenge this community to find enough courage to realize that humans are far more complex than to have one sexuality. It is possible to enjoy other women because they are women. Surely a women's community can manage this.
To the Editor:
I write in the knowledge that The Mount Holyoke News is our best organ of regular communication, and I hope that you will publish my letter as a message through the News to the community.
[A few weeks ago] a banner appeared in Skinner with a bar sinister across the symbol of the Lesbian Student Alliance, a clear violation of our will and our resolve to be a unified community for all groups. The meaning of the meeting on Tuesday night lay in the pledge to listen to every group and to include their legitimate position within our sympathetic understanding. Defacing any symbol is a denial of that resolve and should be anathema to this community. It is to me.
President, Mount Holyoke College
To the Editor:
This letter comes in response to the letter by Beth Halbrect and Jennifer Rice in the November 20 issue of the MHC News. While this letter is not meant to be a personal attack on either Ms. Halbrect or Ms. Rice, neither is this letter meant to be polite. I am quite angry at the glaring misrepresentations in their letter and wish to set the record straight.
The example cited as proof of the existence of heterosexism on this campus was not told in its entirety. It was also only one of many incidents related by students at the November 12 meeting, most much less ambiguous. That experience was then trivialized and used to cast doubt on the issue. It was an insult and a disservice to use this woman's experience in a manner which questioned the validity of her complaint and did not cite the other examples as well. If an account of the meeting is to be made, then all aspects must be accounted for, not only the ones which help prove the author's personal theory.
Of course, Ms. Halbrect and Ms. Rice do eventually say that there is heterosexism at Mount Holyoke. Thank you. However, they also insinuate that it is somehow being provoked by the lesbian community. WE did not deface and destroy the bulletin boards of other organizations, nor did WE hang a banner calling for the eradication of any campus groups or groups of people. Do we provoke by our existence? I'm sorry if that's the case folks, because we're not going away; we have a right to be here too.
Finally, the blue D idea was a nice one; push all the problems under one generic symbol and evade being faced with the real issues. Say, "This means that we are working on being diverse," instead of, "I support the right of gays and lesbians to exist." Escape explaining and communicating about all the oppressions that still exist, as much as we'd like to forget about them. Thanks, but no thanks. We'll take the time to explain, because we think that it is important to remember.
Oh, and one more thing. Many of us did find the letter to be homophobic. And we do care.
To the Editor:
On the morning of Wednesday, November 18, a banner was found hanging from the front of Skinner Hall. The banner was blue, and had batiked on it a double women's symbol with a slash through it - meaning, for those of you who aren't up on your symbolism, ban lesbians (-ism). A student took the banner down as soon as it was discovered.
The banner was truly a work of art, a great deal of effort was put into making it, as well as locating and hanging it. The banner pictorially demanded the erasure of lesbians, but such an irrational statement was not carried out with irrational pettiness. This banner was a well organized, premeditated declaration of either hatred, or, it has been suggested, fear.
A meeting on heterosexism had been scheduled for that evening anyway, the topic of discussion focused on the banner. I went to this meeting, much to the bewilderment of many, who couldn't understand why, since I was straight, I was so upset bout this "lesbian thing." While the banner was obviously directed at the lesbian community, I don't think being able to spot something vulgar and offensive is strictly a lesbian virtue. I was reminded of the poem "Pastor Niemoeller" by George Brown:
"First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out -
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the communist
and I did not speak out -
because I was not a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out -
because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me -
and there was no one left
to speak out for me."
The meeting on heterosexism seemed to progress quite well, although I sometimes felt that a portion of the straight women in that room did feel that the lesbians here are "too angry." However, the question of anger was soon replaced at the forefront by the idea of wearing pink triangles to show our support for lesbian women on this campus, and the gay rights movement in general.
Jennifer Rice and Beth Halbrecht were present at the meeting and they refuted the idea of wearing pink triangles, suggesting that the blue "D" be worn instead, for reasons which they elaborated in the November 20th issue of the Mount Holyoke News. I was struck by the opportunism in Jennifer and Beth's idea. Wearing a blue "D" would allow many people who wanted the vicarious thrill of defending a cause, to do so without having to bear the symbolic responsibility of something like a pink triangle. The blue "D" took no risks. It lumped all "discriminations" together, thereby requiring no strength of its wearers to show some support for something controversial like homosexuality, and once again rendering lesbians an invisible minority. We have to admit, the pink triangle, in its contemporary form, has certain definite connotations. Wearing a blue letter does not impose any easily misinterpreted connotations on anyone.
At the time, I remember directing a question to Jennifer Rice and Beth Halbrecht. I asked were they afraid to be identified as or with lesbians if they wore pink triangles? I went on to say that I admitted to a certain fear about wearing one, fear of the stigma associated with it. But wear one I did, because of, or perhaps in spite of this fear. Like the people of Nazi-occupied Denmark who all wore Stars of David in support of and to protect their Jewish neighbors, I was showing my support of the lesbian women on this campus, showing that I was confronting my own homophobia, my own heterosexism.
What I did not bargain for in all of this idealistic euphoria was the very fear which I accused Rice and Halbrecht of having. Walking across campus with a pink triangle prominently displayed on my coat, I suddenly realized that I was drawing very hostile looks from several of the people I passed. These were not looks of curiosity, they were stares of ignorance, dislike and disapproval. I was very uneasy, but I think now I understand - if women on this campus react in such a way to a silly piece of felt, I can only begin to imagine what it must be like to have those same staring eyes pass judgement on you as a lesbian.
Having now experienced this attitude to a very small degree for myself, I do not feel that any straight woman on this campus has the right to tell any lesbian woman that she's "too angry."
Michelle Paquette '89
To the Editor:
On November 12th there was a meeting at the Women's Center where people concerned with heterosexism and homophobia came together with the intention of sharing their experiences and discussing possible action. Many of the sixty or so people who attended the meeting came away with different impressions than those expressed by Beth Halbrect and Jennifer Rice in their November 20th letter to the MHC News.
Heterosexism and homophobia are not as simple as Jennifer and Beth choose to define them. Nor is fighting heterosexism any more an attack on the heterosexual lifestyle than fighting racism is an invitation to a race riot. Heterosexism is the belief that heterosexuals are superior to homosexuals and therefore have the right to dominate them. It is also the assumption that all people are heterosexual until proven otherwise. On the other hand, homophobia refers to the myths and fears we have all been taught about homosexuals and our own deep fears of loving those of our own sex.
In reference to the contents of the letter, we resent the conscious trivialization and misrepresentation of our experiences. The example chosen was only one of many shared at the meeting yet it was included, it would seem, not because it represented a homophobic attack but because it fit more with Beth and Jennifer's reasoning. We also resent the manner in which victims of oppression are blamed for that oppression, i.e. that lesbians somehow "provoke heterosexism," and that it is, on some level, our fault.
We would like to respond to the suggestion of wearing a blue D as opposed to a pink triangle by saying that all oppressions such as heterosexism, racism, antisemitism, classism, etc, have a common base in ignorance and hate. However, we believe that it is important to recognize the specificity of each oppression. We view the lumping together of -isms as an attempt to erase our differences and avoid dealing with the issue.
Before we can be a truly diverse community we must acknowledge and respect our differences. This will never be accomplished by covering them up with a pretty blue D.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank all of those who wore a pink triangle throughout the last week and encourage you to keep wearing one. Your support is invaluable.
To the Editor:
The recent publicity of the harassment of particular members of the Five Colleges (including Mount Holyoke) has brought attention to the larger issue of diversity and the intolerance of difference within our community. We, as organizational members, are deeply concerned about such intolerances and the effect such a lack of consideration has on both individuals and the community at large.
We feel that it is important for us to stand as a community in support of our diverse membership and to support in whatever ways possible the interests of our many individuals. We look beyond the student bodies to the faculties, staff, and administrations of the Five Colleges to aid us in this effort. We ask that they too support diversity and actively pursue actions and policies which protect individuals from overt and implicit harassment and work to change policies and attitudes which discriminate against or ignore diversity.
The destructive effects of discrimination are felt by an entire community, not just by a few individuals. With this in mind, we hope to initiate a renewed participation by all members of our community.
Philosophy Club, Officers