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Monday, Apr 22, 2024

An Appeal for Equal Criticism

Author: [no author name found]

The destruction of the Middlebury Open Queer Alliance (moqa) closet last month prompted responses from the president, the provost and dean of faculty, and the Faculty Council and Staff Council. I have now heard of backlash responses from members of the faculty, the staff and finally the students. Why is it that people find it necessary to challenge condemnation of homophobic intolerance? If a Sukkoth hut set up by Hillel or a symbolic slave cabin constructed by the African American Alliance were destroyed, would people really quibble with condemning their destruction? Why is it that a closet built by moqa evokes a different response? If a Jewish cemetery is vandalized or a black church bombed, would not anti-Semitism and racism be the presumed motivation, or would people suggest instead that random drunken violence happened to choose these targets? We have no right to speculate perhaps they were just not thinking.
Racist remarks on and have rightly been named on the front page of The Campus as racist. Why is it that homophobia remains unspoken? Not one of the official condemnations names homophobia. Instead, they talk about mutual respect, respect for others and expression of one's beliefs, no matter how controversial. Couching condemnation of homophobic vandalism in the language of respect for controversial beliefs is potentially dangerous. Is the idea that gay people should be honest about their sexual orientation, that gay people should be encouraged to come out, really that controversial? Is there an opposing view that is not homophobic?
Bryan Goldberg's '05 article "Goldberg Challenges Atwood's Rhetoric on Closet Destruction" (The Middlebury Campus, Nov. 13, 2002) provides numerous examples of homophobic discourse masquerading as tolerance. Middlebury students respect the way their peers choose to live. Choose? Please! Bringing in the old canard of "sexually explicit" parades is an interesting tactic, though moqa certainly hasn't organized any of these. Furthermore, I've been going to Gay Pride parades for 15 years, and my hopes of finding something sexually explicit have been dashed again and again. The problem is really that anything gay is considered sexually explicit. Goldberg's suggestion that people would be equally squeamish about a monument decorated with heterosexual terms and slurs is intriguing. But I wonder if he could suggest what the equivalent terms might be. A student was called 'faggot' recently for walking hand in hand with his boyfriend on campus. What slur do you yell at a white male student who holds his girlfriend's hand?

Kevin Moss is a Professor of Russian