In response to “LGBTQ Teach-In Targets Homophobia”

To the Editor:

Those of us at the LGBTQ Resource Center involved in the teach-in were troubled by the article printed in the October 18 edition of The College Voice and its representation of the event.  We were pleased that it was extensively covered and that the author was clearly well-intentioned.  However, many of the points raised by speakers were misrepresented in the article.

Professor Jennifer Manion was quoted as saying that “nearly 41% of LGBTQ youth will attempt suicide.” This statistic was actually given regarding the percent of transgender youth who will attempt suicide and specifically highlights how difficult it is to be transgender in our society today.  The actual rate of attempted suicide among LGBTQ youth in general is still alarmingly high at four times the national average.

The quote attributed to Currie Huntington ’11 stated, “being queer is too fundamentally entrenched in our society for our lives to be changed by a law maker’s signature.”  This misquotation gives the opposite impression intended by Huntington.  He said that legislation cannot bring about change because the idea that it is not okay to be queer is deeply ingrained in our society.  The idea that being queer is in any way entrenched in our society is a complete misrepresentation of the status of queers in society today.

It was stated in the article that Jessica Bombasaro-Brady ’11 said that she was “brainwashed with hate speech against the LGBTQ community before it had even occurred to her that she herself might have such a sexual orientation.”  Bombasaro-Brady was not herself brainwashed against the community, but stated that her first introduction to a gay person was a story of violence.  The story of Matthew Shepherd’s death made her aware of the struggles of LGBTQ people.  Having heard so many stories of violence against LGBTQ people, she warned the audience not to become as numb to violence and suicide (not gay rights, as the article stated) as she has become.

Christopher Bylone, a Residential Education and Living Area Coordinator said, “Even at 2AM when you are at a party, if you hear homophobic remarks or see harassment around sexual orientation, those are the times you need to step up and speak up for those of us who are not present.”  In the article, this quote was changed to refer to sexual harassment, which, while an important issue, was not the focus of the teach-in.  There is already a campus-wide movement to challenge sexual harassment, but this is a separate issue requiring attention on this campus.

The article, when discussing problems with counseling services, referred to transgender students as “gender or identity-challenged.”  This is an extremely offensive way of referring to transgender students.  Being transgender does not make one gender-challenged; rather, it means that one’s gender does not align with the sex assigned at birth.  Similarly, transgender people are not identity-challenged.  Instead, a transgender person often has a very acute sense of identity.  The idea that transgender students are challenged in some way is commonly seen in society, and one of the goals of the teach-in was to raise awareness and to change this notion.

The bathrooms in Crozier-Williams were not made transgender on the day of the teach-in.  Rather, they were made gender-neutral, meaning anyone of any gender identity could use any bathroom.  Transgender is a term that can refer only to people.  Applying it to a bathroom would mean that the bathroom was meant only for transgender students, or that the gender identity of the bathroom did not correspond to the sign on the door.

Although it may not have been intentional, Andrew Sowle ’13 was incorrectly referred to by female pronouns in the article.  This is highly ironic given that the nature of the speech delivered by Sowle (a male-identifying and male-presenting student), which stressed the importance of respecting the pronoun preferences of all people.  This may have been an attempt to use the correct pronouns based on the assumption that Sowle is transgender because he was speaking about trans issues.  Sowle, rather, was speaking on behalf of a marginalized minority. This is a good opportunity to point out that allies can speak on behalf of a group of which they are not a part and are valuable because they can do so with relative safety.

Professor Manion was inaccurately quoted as saying that people should never assume that being straight is a privilege.  The idea that she would say this is absurd and demonstrates a complete lack of comprehension about the whole event. She made no comments similar to this, but believes quite strongly that heterosexism and straight privilege are active forces in society.  She, in fact, offers workshops at the center on these topics.

This article clearly demonstrated to us how far we have to go in changing perceptions and educating this campus about the LGBTQ community.  That such an obviously well-meaning article could misrepresent so many aspects of the teach-in highlights the level of misconceptions in society.  In order to educate the Connecticut College community, we urge people to continue coming to LGBTQ Center events and workshops.

The LGBTQ Resource Center Staff and Director