On Monday, March 9, 2009, we walked towards the Seminary Co-op, unsure of what to expect from the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) protest. We were a bit anxious, yet eager to stand in solidarity with other University of Chicago students against the WBC. The meager showing of only a few WBC people made us scoff at their “protest.” Their signs were ludicrous and most students realized they were a joke, desperate for publicity. Thus within minutes of the WBC’s arrival, we knew they posed no threat.
What we were not expecting, however, was to be more offended by the actions of our fellow students. Our eyes and ears were lured to the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity house next to the Co-op, which was blasting “Dancing Queen.” We watched in disgust as young white male students frenetically gyrated about their porch, some in pink clothing, others barely wearing anything at all. We perceived that they were attempting to mimic the gay culture in order to agitate the WBC entourage.
These young fraternity members were attempting to voice protest against the WBC, but actually perpetuated demeaning stereotypes about LGBTQ people, which compromised their good intentions. With a single song and a few minutes of parading across their porch, scantily clad and thrusting their hips toward one another, they minimized the gay culture to nothing but show tunes and flamboyant dancing. Such behavior is tantamount to them painting their faces black if the KKK were to protest on campus. Would we tolerate such behavior within this context?
Nonetheless, they are only part of this social equation. We recognize that the LGBTQ community is also responsible for portraying itself authentically and with integrity. If one were to watch the highly sexualized gay pride parade in Chicago each year, would he or she see much difference between it and the display this past Monday? Probably not. While well-intentioned, actors must be socially conscious of the message they are portraying with their actions. The LGBTQ community must take equal responsibility for the image it shows the world so that superficial, monolithic, and degrading stereotypes fade from the landscape of our diverse society.
The WBC folks were a joke and everyone knew that. Yet the attempt of Alpha Delta Phi to mock the WBC participants instead succeeded in making a mockery of the LGBTQ community. We are offended. We are appalled. But most of all, we are disappointed. We do not want an apology, because such meager gestures are usually not heartfelt. We only ask that others be self-critical when attempting to “take a stand.”
Bruce Thao and Vannesa Fabbre
SSA Ph.D. Students