May 6, 2003

Campus homophobia

I was the victim of a "bias incident" late last quarter, when beer-can-toting members of a campus fraternity invaded my house lounge and referred to me using the most endearing of words known to any gay male: "faggot."

The situation really didn't bother me at the time, and I'll go on record to say that the University did well in responding to the incident in a sensitive fashion.

What bothered me more than the uttered slur and the drunken apologies I was forced to accept afterwards was the lack of response by my fellow students, most of whom, despite their admirable acceptance of my sexuality, dismissed the situation as a natural consequence of male machismo and drunkenness.

Would they have dismissed these remarks if I were black, and been called a "nigger"? The answer is no. Today in America, it's unacceptable to judge someone based on his race--even when heavily intoxicated. The word "nigger" is fast replacing "fuck" as the most obscene, unutterable word in our language.

A few beers, though, and you can get away with a "faggot" here and there, especially if you're a male chauvinist.

This underlies a basic hypocrisy in our societal conceptions--that it's acceptable, even natural, to feel threatened by homosexuals and to turn that into acts of hate.

Most people think it understandable that straight males would find gay males threatening; we gays don't accept the traditional ideas of the way men are supposed to act in society, and, even worse, we occasionally make passes at straight males. Simple disgust at the portion of the population that "takes it up the ass" is well understood and largely excused.

After all, most see homosexuality as more than just a trait--it's morally reprehensible behavior. Catholicism will tell you it's OK to be born homosexual--you can't be blamed for that--just don't have sex with another man. U.S. law replicates this belief. Unlike heterosexuals, two consenting homosexuals don't have the right to have sex in the privacy of their own home, although that could change soon.

Some religions, and law, also, used to sanction the treatment of blacks as less than full people. Today, this practice is unthinkable. But such a repudiation of homophobia is by no means necessary. One only need look at the political scene today, with Republicans support ing Sen. "homosexuality is like man-on-dog" Santorum, to recognize this fact.

Our language doesn't even have a term (like sexism or racism) to define hate of homosexuals absent a legitimizing fear; our current term, "homophobia," continues to remind us how natural hate of homosexuals supposedly is.

As we have come to recognize that racism is an unacceptable behavior, we must also recognize that homophobia is just as unacceptable. As we expect whites to overcome their xenophobia and accept blacks, so, too must we force heterosexuals to accept homosexuals.

Though I see nothing inherently wrong with fraternities, and I understand many of them are inclusive, some have become a locus of homophobia within our community. Mine marks the third anti-gay bias incident involving members of a U of C fraternity this year. As students, we've done little to combat this; we've given fraternities free reign to turn their homophobia into hateful acts.

I ask not for rules or legislation that would serve nothing except to violate basic freedoms, among which are the right to express hate.

I ask that every individual reading this take a stand against such actions. That they not excuse homophobia as a consequence of being a straight male, or a member of a fraternity. That as a community, with each of us capable of and susceptible to condemnation, we render such behavior as unacceptable as racism.

Because whether it's "nigger," or "faggot," it's still just hate.