April 16, 2004

Homophobia at the U of C Elimidate

I recently attended the U of C Elimidate screening, a fundraising event that took place during AIDS Awareness week. The event was extremely well done—it was fun, different, and drew a sizable crowd. However, my own experience of it was tainted by the reactions of some of my fellow students. Before the movie started, my companion bemoaned our luck for ending up near a group of guys that were obviously all athletes and frat guys of some sort. I did not know them personally, and I made a point to admonish him for making sweeping generalizations about people (despite the fact that the guys were yelling and throwing food even before the movie started). After all, my experiences at the U of C often confirm that stereotypes I hold about certain types of people turn out false.

I have heard and read about instances of homophobia on this campus, particularly in connection with frats, but in four years, I have never witnessed anything directly. Until now. The show began with a mock warning about the vulgarity of the content and included a list of groups who may take offense to it. The last group mentioned on the list was homosexuals. At this point, a few guys behind me yelled in unison, "Butt sex!" It did not end there. Throughout the movie, the guys made rude comments about the contestants, booing loudly at certain people. I understand that Elimidate, by nature, is raucous and rude. In keeping with this spirit, a variety of jokes were made by contestants on-screen that pushed the line of appropriateness, but a certain amount of this was necessary in order to make the whole thing successful and entertaining. I think that when Claire Baldwin, the main organizer of the event, made a special point at the beginning to ask the audience to keep certain behaviors in check (booing, etc.), she was asking us to be mindful of the staged-ness of the on-screen "reality" and to refrain from engaging in the Elimidate mentality in real life.

Unfortunately, the guys sitting around me could not hear her request—they were too busy yelling "penis." Rude and immature comments can perhaps (by a huge stretch of the imagination) be understood or excused in light of the context. However, what happened towards the end of the movie cannot. The last of the four dates was completely staged and involved four gay guys and a girl. It is somewhat problematic to me that a gay date has to be more staged than the other dates to begin with, but that is another issue. The minute this fourth date started, close to 15 guys got up in a group and left the theater, some of them making various anti-gay comments as they went. I do not know how to interpret this except as an act of pure homophobia. Not only did this mass exit disrupt my watching of the movie, it disrupted my very sense of the environment in which I live and go to school. When the vast majority of U of C students that I've encountered are open-minded, free-thinking individuals, even in their diversity of opinions, it is disturbing to come into contact with the kind of herd mentality and behavior in which blatant forms of discrimination can gain substance. I did not say anything to them in the moment and I regret it. My generally high opinion of U of C students stems from the fact that most people here know how to express their views in respectful ways. That I am now forced to adopt a more critical attitude towards certain people on campus is extremely disappointing.