When I read the headline “LGBT group suspends UMD from consideration” in the Feb. 25 issue of the Statesman, my first thought was: “Good.” I tend to live a pretty sheltered existence at UMD. As a women’s studies major, I’m surrounded by people who understand oppression in all its intersectional forms and are actively working against it. We’re a very progressive group — students, staff and faculty alike — and it’s easy to forget the entire world isn’t as interested in or knowledgeable about the issues as we are. It’s easy to forget that not everyone has taken even a remedial course on gender issues, racism, classism, ableism or homophobia.
Ultimately, it’s easy to forget that we do, in fact, live in an incredibly homophobic society. And UMD is no exception.
QASU is a phenomenal organization. They’re active in the community, often sending advocates into classes to share their own difficult stories of coming out, knowing very well that some students may harass them afterwards.
Not to mention, QASU hosts one of the biggest on campus events of the year: the bi-annual drag show. They sell shirts that read “Gay? Fine by me,” and “Trans? Fine by me.” They promote safe sex. They express gender fluidity, blurring the lines of the sexual binary, embracing their campy, glorious beauty in a safe space (and yeah, the money doesn’t hurt either).
But not everyone realizes this.
Last Thursday, I was working at the Writers’ Workshop. There’s a table next to my desk where a group of two men and one woman were working on a project for a business class. The woman mentioned going to the drag show, talking about how much fun she had last time she went. The two men were flabbergasted.
They couldn’t wrap their heads around the fact that the “dudes dress like girls” and dance around on stage. The woman said it was fine, claiming it’s for entertainment — she said it’s like a “comedy show.” For those who aren’t in the know: it’s really not like a comedy show. The performers can be funny and the emcee is often hilarious, but the humor doesn’t lie in the “crazy” premise of cross-dressing. If you think that’s the point, you’re doing it wrong. We’re supposed to be laughing with them, not at them.
After the woman explained how it’s a comedy show — because it’s funny, because the performers egg it on, one of the men started to “get” it, because he realized he could laugh at the performers. I was disgusted. And it didn’t stop there. He wanted to be sure that the performers wouldn’t get “up in his business” and that he wouldn’t have to touch them.
It was horrible to hear, but I was at work and I couldn’t say anything. Then I remembered the fact that UMD is no longer being considered for Campus Pride and I felt better.
Even though there are loads of people on campus — students, faculty and staff — who are working to make a more inclusive environment on campus, it’s not enough. So much of the student body is explicitly homophobic, no sooner to set foot into QASU than they are to cheer on an opposing hockey team.
UMD can boast about our high ratings from Campus Pride to draw more students (read: money) all we want, but the fact remains that we hardly do anything to retain these students. To keep them safe. And more importantly, to educate the students who just don’t care - the students who are so privileged they can be blind to how their behaviors affect the lives of others around them.
As long as our school has the Campus Pride ratings, the people posing in photos - basically everything that we can show to the public - we consider ourselves progressive. Even if it takes countless hours of advocating for gender-neutral bathrooms (we have only three on all of campus). Even when the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies department is constantly under threat of getting cut. If we get a good rating, we know the school can utilize PR, promoting a facade of equality and inclusivity that is truly only prevalent in limited spaces on campus.
We can do better than this. It’s obvious that most of us preach to the choir. WGSS students and multicultural center members all get it. But it’s rare to see non-affiliated students at events promoting equality. Clearly we need to do something more, to educate the students, faculty and staff who perpetuate this silence. Because, as the sign hanging above QASU’s cubicle so succinctly puts it: silence = death.
BY APRILL EMIG
Arts & Entertainment Editor