LBA forum prompts dialogue
by Andreea Arambasa '99
The Lesbian Bisexual Alliance held an open forum on October 18 to discuss the purpose of Coming Out Week and the ways it was celebrated on campus this year. Homophobia, political activism, lesbian and bisexual awareness were also on the agenda.
The forum was intended to prompt dialogue, "which is always better than silent homophobia," Co-Chair of the LBA Alicia Curlew '98 said.
Students at the forum responded to questions such as "How do we represent ourselves?" and "What is the difference between visibility and making a political statement?"
Students expressed concerns regarding the aesthetic forms of celebration manifested during Coming Out Week which included stickers, posters and chalk markings.
Participants also addressed issues of personal discomfort. "As a person coming from a very sheltered environment, I felt that Coming Out Week was forced on me," said a student who asked to remain anonymous.
"That was the exact purpose of the Week: to force people to realize that homosexuality is here every day," Beth Schwartz '99 responded.
A message written on an LBA sign which read: "Lesbians should die" provoked controversy.
"You guys should have expected such attitudes," one student at the forum said.
In response, Ann Kelson '99 said "Yes, but anticipating them doesn't mean I have to accept them."
Several students said they thought the publicity for Coming Out Week was excessive. "Parents of perspective [sic[ students might get the idea that we recruit lesbians, that 10% isn't enough," a student said.
Another student said, "As long as homophobia is alive, it needs to be fought by any means."
While some students said they were concerned that the publicizing of Coming Out Week could have discouraged questioning persons, others thought LBA did not do enough.
LBA co-chairs Laura Betts '99 and Curlew discussed the purpose of their organization on campus. "The LBA is an avenue for those who want to be politically and socially active on campus," Curlew said. " This year we have a strong and enthusiastic group of first-year members, and that seems to be inspiring for upperclass women," she added.
"The LBA doesn't represent every gay person on campus, and even inside the LBA people held different opinions," Betts said. "The LBA and Spectrum held open meetings and everyone was welcome to come and talk about how to celebrate this Week," Betts added.
Curlew addressed the issue of male guests at LBA meetings. "[Our] meetings exclude male guests, so lesbian, bisexual, and questioning women can feel more comfortable. we are trying to create a safe space and to be a resource for the campus. Nobody is asked to identify or define her sexuality at meetings or activities, but if someone offers to come out and share her experiences, that's great.," Curlew said.
"At LBA meetings we discuss homophobia, we invite speakers, and we enjoy movie nights," Betts said.
"I feel that we will have a truly diversified campus when people will be able to express their personal views and understand that it's all right," QuoVadis Cobb '99 said.
Editorial: No shame in pride
The Lesbian Bisexual Alliance did an excellent job of publicizing Coming Out Week two weeks ago. No sooner did students make their way to their October 7 Monday morning classes were they faced with rainbow-wrapped trees and colorful signs with varying shapes, colors and messages: displays of support and pride.
The LBA, with its prominent and prolific decorations, forced the campus to think all week long of gays, lesbians and bisexuals and the challenges they face everyday in a heterosexual society.
The letters to the editor that appeared that same week in The News expressing displeasure with the way the week was handled and with the decoration of Mary Lyon's grave had some valid points. However just a few miles down the road at the University of Massachusetts an editorial by Daily Collegian columnist Erik Molitor demonstrated the necessity of LBA's mode of celebration.
Wrote Molitor in his editorial, "I do not support homosexuality in any way, shape or form ... because I find it unnatural and somewhat immoral." In addition, Molitor went on to call one of his "oldest and closest family friends ... as flaming as a raging bonfire."
Collegian editors placed Molitor's ignorant and homophobic editorial in the upper left-hand corner of the opinion pages - prime editorial space in any newspaper.
The letters in the October 10 News may or may not have been rooted in homophobia. To many individuals, religious or not, a gravesite is a sacred and special place from which to keep a respectful distance. On the other hand, Mount Holyoke has enjoyed a long-standing tradition of a 6am ice-cream social around our founder's grave. And, Mount Holyoke veterans will acceptingly attest, at about this time of year every year a pumpkin mysteriously appears on top of Mary Lyon's grave.
Kathy Stanfield et al wrote that the LBA decorations were "excessive" and "aggressive attacks. " The Daily Collegian editorial is an aggressive attack. It is not the only one of its kind. The United States Congress aggressively attacked gays just a few weeks ago when it passed the Defense of Marriage Act and then did not pass a gay anti-discrimination act.
Until intolerant and blatantly homophobic attitudes, like those expressed in Erik Molitor's editorial, stop occurring altogether, the LBA, and organizations like it, need to and should be in people's faces about Coming Out Week. There is no shame in pride.
Fighting for our rights
It hurt me to read the letters to the editor against the LBA's decorations for National Coming Out Week. As a first-year and member of the LBA, I am appalled at the blatant misunderstanding of our message. I know people who were beaten to near death because of their sexual orientation, and people who were kicked out of their homes for being gay. My church back home will not allow gays in the congregation. Not long ago police raided our parties, falsely arrested us, beat us, and raped us because of our sexual orientation.
Even though our situation in America is a little better, it is time people on this campus understand what we are saying. Our decoration of the campus was not to show Mount Holyoke as an accepting environment, but to help others understand the importance of coming out.
We have few rights and once we leave Mount Holyoke the restrictions placed on us will become frighteningly obvious; our very existence is illegal in most states. The gay community will be distributionally smaller and less prominent than at Mount Holyoke and there will be more discrimination and less support. We will have to find the courage to stand on our own. At Mount Holyoke we are developing our strength to withstand future oppression.
The LBA spent a good deal of time and money decorating for National Coming Out Week and our actions were well planned. We made sure to abide by the school's rules: we did not chalk on campus, we did not hang a rainbow flag on the flagpole. We used great discretion by not putting up aggressive signs and trying not to offend others. We have a right, like all other groups on campus, to voice our opinions. We are not trying to offend people by our signs and decorations, but are trying to show the importance of acceptance, pride and courage. I am surprised there are women here who do not understand and do not respect our cause. I am proud to call myself a lesbian and to have told my friends and family I am gay. Speaking out for ourselves and others is the only tool we have and we are using it.
We have a long fight ahead of us, and it is time everyone understands we will not fall back into the quiet loneliness of the closet again.
Susannah Leigh Pearce '00
We're vocal ....
Lesbian Bisexual Alliance
Coming out is political
I have read the letters to the editor questioning the "excessive nature" of the Coming Out Week celebration and the use of Mary Lyon's grave during the week.
I have heard requests for an apology from the LBA from members of the community. The LBA has been accused of acting inappropriately, and I write now not only to challenge these accusations but also to say that I, as an individual, will not apologize for any of the actions used by my peers and by myself. while there is homophobia on campus can political action be excessive?
I do not see National Coming Out Week as simply an awareness week. Coming Out is a political action. NCOW is a week for political action. What happened on campus was moderate, and certainly not an aggressive attack. The purpose of the week is not only to support the women and men who are coming out for the first time but also to celebrate those of us who come out every day and who will continue to do so for the rest of our lives. It is a week for challenging homophobia and making the world a safer place for those who do not come out.
The purpose of the decorations, to me, was not to prove that the campus is an accepting place at all. Clearly it is not, if the rights of lesbian and bisexual students and their allies are being questioned and if "Lesbians Should Die" appears written on several LBA flyers. Many community members are embarrassed to have the lesbian and bisexual presence at Mount Holyoke so clearly expressed where passersby can see. This is not acceptance, but homophobia.
Stickers and signs were placed on residence halls and academic buildings with a distinct purpose. Homophobia is clearly present in academia. When we are discriminated against in our classrooms and absent in our texts, we are not safe. When we are avoided in our residence halls, we are not safe.
I realize that members of the community may disagree with the use of Mary Lyon's grave. To me, the grave embodies the rich history and tradition of Mount Holyoke. while I do admire much of that history, I also recognize that Mount Holyoke has a deeply closeted history and that homophobia has deep roots at the College. Therefore, I will continue to defend the right of any woman who feels oppressed by her college to express this in the most sacred space on campus.
To those who are shocked and appalled that your peers would do such things, please do not be. Trust that your peers examined the situation and made conscious decisions regarding statements that needed to be made about homophobia on this campus, and that they acted in accordance with their personal sense of honor.
Alicia Curlew '98
Surprised at offense
I was surprised to hear that people were offended by the LBA's display of pride during the week preceding National Coming Out Day. I don't see how enthusiasm and vocal action make a "mockery" of the week. A letter to the editor in the October 10 issue of the Mount Holyoke News claimed that if other groups decorated the campus to the extent the LBA did, it would be equally as problematic. I disagree. What if, during Victim/Survivor Awareness Week, people and groups decided to post signs about rape awareness on every tree, every door, every entrance to campus ... would there be an uproar about this? It is impossible to know, but somehow, I doubt it. Showing vocal support of rape survivors and trying to advance awareness about sexual violence probably would not make so many people uncomfortable. Discomfort and an unwillingness to give up heterosexual privilege, on the part of those of all sexual orientations, seems to me to have been the main factor in people's upset with the decoration of campus.
A comparison was made between writing "we love women" on route 116 and hypothetically writing "we love men." Whether or not anyone feels writing such a statement on the road in either form is appropriate, the comparison between the two is irrelevant and illogical. There is no need for heterosexuals to be any more vocal about their existence than they already are. They do not need to advance themselves or awareness of themselves.
Awareness of and acceptance of homosexuality, on the other hand, are greatly needed. The LBA and the women who decorated outside the limits of campus were only trying to promote this awareness.
The decoration of and around Mount Holyoke was an expression of pride. It stands for acknowledging and embracing diversity. I don't see how such symbols hurt or attack anyone. I would have hoped that the students of Mount Holyoke, who generally are the reason for its safe atmosphere where people can be themselves and build self-worth, would not judge any group's way of choosing to express themselves.
Tracy Laibson '98