Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Conservatives "Come Out" on Campus and the GLBT Communities Respond

Earlier this week, the University of Iowa College Republicans sent out a mass e-mail to the UI community announcing this year's "Conservative Coming Out Week". I haven't seen the e-mail itself, but this is how it was described in yesterday's Iowa City Press-Citizen:
"I know at times it feels like you are the only person that disagrees with this liberal town, but you are not alone!" the e-mail reads. "We are asking all Republicans, Independents leaning right, or just anyone frustrated with the People's Republic of Johnson County to STAND UP!"
The UI College Republicans then listed a series of events organized to celebrate the week. On Monday, they took a trip to the Hawkeye Wildlife shooting range -- and they made sure to specifically instruct people not to bring firearms to the UI campus. On Tuesday, they hosted a showing of "Waiting for Superman", a documentary that is critical of the U.S. public education system. Earlier today, they were scheduled to give out free cupcakes to anyone who could provide a valid photo ID. Tomorrow night, they are scheduled to host an animal rights BBQ at College Green Park following by a spontaneous camp out. And Friday, people are encourage to wear red clothing in support of transforming Iowa into a "red state".

All's well in good, but then I read in today's Iowa City Press-Citizen that the UI's Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Allied Union (GLBTAU) is offended that the UI College Republicans used the term "coming out":
The University of Iowa Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Allied Union said in a news release said it is critical of any use of the term "coming out" for an event that doesn't involve identifying with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or allied community...

"A person’s identity as a political conservative does not lead to the denial of basic legal protections or civil rights," the group wrote in a news release. "It does not lead to sanctioned discrimination at a social, religious, systemic, institutional, organizational or governmental level..."

"In light of the event’s timing and the consistent education of the College Republican membership concerning the offense taken by the LGBTQA community by their use of this phrase, we feel that this use of 'coming out' is being used to sensationalize and provide satire to the College Republican cause," the GLBTAU wrote. "Therefore, we hold that the term in this instance is mocking an activity that is specific to the LGBTQA community."
Sometimes, I think the GLBT communities really need to learn how to pick our battles better. The UI College Republicans could have actually mocked the GLBT communities if they wanted, but they didn't. They have in the past, if I remember correctly, as when they hosted a "Gerbil Memorial Quilt" project back in the early 90s. However, none of the UI College Republicans' activities have anything to do with GLBT issues this year. They address animal rights and the Occupy Movement and voter ID politics and public education, but there is nothing directly addressing or attacking GLBT people in their planned events this year.

News alert! GLBT people no more own the phrase "coming out" than Christians own the rainbow. There are conservative GLBT people and there are GLBT Republicans. And there are also non-GLBT conservatives who actively support GLBT people and our rights. GLBTAU could have been pleased that the UI College Republican activities actually mocked or belittled GLBT people or our families. Instead, they created a fight.

We need to stop reacting to perceived slights and save our time and energy for actual battles. We will never secure our rights by reaching out to one party over the other. It wasn't Democrats alone who repealed Don't Ask/Don't Tell. It wasn't the Democratic Party alone that passed marriage equality bills during the past couple years where such bills were passed into law. And it won't be Democrats alone who stand up alongside Iowa's gay and lesbian families and defend our marriage rights.

Then again, there might indeed be some validity to the criticism targeted at the UI College Republicans, as communicated through this letter to the editor in today's Daily Iowan:
Didn't we go through this last year? Why is the university allowing a group to repeatedly send mass emails offending other members of the community and sneering at their struggles? College Republicans is the only club that does this. The Society of Women Engineers never distributes man-hating messages. Sailing Club doesn't deride landlubbers. In my five years at the UI, only the College Republicans have sought to promote their cause by belittling that of others... Surely, College Republicans has many thoughtful and engaged members. They might create events highlighting this rather than alienating potential allies.
Maybe there is room for both of these campus groups to learn and grow following this week's undergraduate drama.

1 comment:

Katy Anders said...

On college campuses - if NOWHERE else - it seems like there ought to be a true marketplace of ideas.

Let kids look at what's being offered. They're pretty good at sniffing out the silly stuff.