AD hosts homophobia discussion

by Tracy Landers | 10/19/00 5:00am

In the wake of the Spring term visit of self-described former lesbian Yvette Schneider, which sparked campus protests and intense reactions, the issue of sexuality at Dartmouth remains a charged and passionate point of interest.

In contrast to Schneider's speech, which created a flood of negative feelings among the student body, this Tuesday's forum titled "Don't Yell Faggot from the Front Porch!" was focused on "building bridges" between the "Queer Community" and the perceived heterosexual Greek community at Dartmouth.

The discussion, held at Alpha Delta fraternity, was organized by Angelina Stelmach, a member of the Dartmouth Rainbow Alliance (DRA) and the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer Questioning and Closeted Allies (LGBTQ), with the help of Ed Bialas '01 who is the vice president of AD.

The discussion attracted a crowd of more than 200 curious and courteous students, ready and willing to discuss the difficult issues of heterosexism and the integration of alternative sexuality into the Greek system.

That the discussion went on well past 11 p.m. may be an indication that these issues are important to Dartmouth students and the Greek system. Moderated by Pam Meisner, the LGBTQ coordinator, and Michael Bronski, a visiting professor of women's studies, the discussion was lead by a group of five student panelists.

To break the ice, the moderator had the audience yell out slang sexual terms. To no one's surprise, 90 percent of the expressions, such as "dyke," "fairy," and "lessi," all referred to homosexuality. "Breeder," a slang term used by queers to insult heterosexuals, was introduced by Kristen Foery '04, a co-chair of DRA. Despite the jittery atmosphere intentionally created by this introduction, the discussion quickly got underway, with an emphasis on the importance of personal experience in the understanding of gender issues and the use of offensive slang.

Some of the concerns raised by members of the audience include the difficulty in confronting parents about sexual labels, the use of these labels beginning at a young age, and the gender difference in the use of labels, especially the concern that groups of men use them more often then women.

The audience was split between those who felt that Dartmouth students used harmful labels such as "fag" or "gay" in a way that was unconscious and socially conditioned, referring to nothing more than an abstract negative, and those who felt that intolerance existed among Dartmouth students, and especially among fraternities, as a concrete reality.

Bronski said, "I'm presuming there are lots of misperceptions surrounding frat houses." He asked whether students in fraternities felt prejudice against their houses existed within the Dartmouth community. An AD member responded, "Yes, but there is some bit of truth [in the prejudice]."

Another fraternity member said, "most frat boys have a more open mind than people give them credit for." However, yet another audience member said, "In an all male institute there is a lot of homophobia."

The use of the term "heterosexism" -- which refers to the pervasive attitude that heterosexuality is superior to any other type of sexuality -- stirred the greatest controversy among the audience. The majority of the audience felt that this term had a negative connotation that did not help the purpose of "building bridges" between groups of differing sexual orientations.

The single dissenting voice in the crowd came from a male referred to fondly as "our friend in the blue in the back." His libertarian concerns centered on the right to freedom of speech and against the legislation of morality to discriminate against or privilege homosexuality. He said there should not be "a certain code of civility masking people's real opinions."

Another member of the audience responded to the discussion's title with the comment "Don't sit in a f***ing shell not offending other people!" Meisner responded to this by pointing out the important difference between offending someone, making someone feel uncomfortable and making someone feel unsafe and at risk by what you say.

Towards the end of the discussion Bialas asked the queer members of the audience if they felt more comfortable coming into AD after this event, to which Stelmach answered, "Yes, definitely."

Perhaps the essence of the forum is best characterized by Ezekiel Webber '00 who said "don't let us tell you what to do, make your own decisions."

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