assar is not nearly as queer friendly as it would lead people to believe. Everything I have ever experienced in the queer community has led me to the conclusion that in order to be heard in this space, one must be white, cisgender and preferably a gay man, and the activities on campus in response to the Westboro Baptist Church’s protest have done nothing to change my mind.
When I first heard that the infamous hate group was coming to Vassar, I was excited. I had high hopes that this would be a wonderful opportunity for normally silenced members of the LGBTQ community to have their voices heard.
My hopes did not stay high for long.
Every person who approached me, or the groups in which I participate, was a white, gay male. This, coupled with suggestions that “Champions Wear Burgundy and Gay” become one of our slogans, attempts to reclaim ‘Ivy League Whorehouse’ by all kinds of Vassar students—including the many men to whom the term whore has never been applied—disturbs and disgusts me. “Champions Wear Burgundy and Gay” is just another catchy phrase that excludes the majority of the queer community, many of whom are already lacking adequate representation in the media and in the microcosm that is the Vassar community. Gay men also have a long history of trying to take back terms that have applied to other marginalized LGBTQ people, including slurs used against cis and transwomen alike, and it is completely unacceptable for them to stand on a platform against the Westboro Baptist Church that embraces reclaiming yet another word that never actually belonged to them.
So many of the ideas proposed, from the merchandise to the language used to describe the protest itself, are so centered on gay men that I find it impossible to believe that anyone who does not fit into the queer ideal postulated and perpetuated by the most privileged of the queer community will gain anymore visibility from this event. When people refer to this as a problem for the gay community it erases and minimizes the experiences of other queer people.
While I understand the desire to show a cohesive front to the Westboro Baptist Church and the media that will be covering the protest, I am firmly opposed to this mentality. In a diverse queer community, which comprises many different queer identities as well as many different ethnic backgrounds and gender identities, trying to promote a united front is all but impossible without excluding people, and the people most likely to be excluded are exactly the people who need to gain visibility from this protest. A unified presentation like this only serves to erase the problems that continue to plague the queer community. The simple fact is that we are not all in this together. We cannot be, not when so many different needs affect queer people in various situations. We cannot project a united front when our own communities remain so fractured by internalized oppression a lack of intersectionality. This entire situation has convinced me that white gay men have had their heyday as the golden boys of the LGBTQ community for far long enough. This needs to change, starting here and now. Gay men are disproportionately represented in the media, and while that may not be the fault of any individual at Vassar, by continuing to push forward the visibility of gay men and occasionally women over the rest of the queer community, we contribute to the larger problems of intersectionality that affect the entirety of queerness.
I, as a bisexual woman of color, am used to being either underrepresented in the media or represented in disturbing, fetishized ways, but this should not be the case on a campus that supposedly prides itself on being inclusive. However, despite the attempts to portray Vassar as an inclusive, queer-friendly place, almost everyone who does not identify as a gay man lacks adequate representation.
My biggest fear about the outcome of the Westboro Baptist counter-protest is that the queer community will, once again, be boiled down to issues revolving around white, class privileged, gay men and straight people appropriating queer issues by kissing for a cause while the underrepresented and ignored return to obscurity. If the counter-protest is going to be effective in any way other than promoting visibility for gay men, the greater issues of the queer community must be addressed. Without actively striving for inclusivity, marginalized groups will continue to be inaccurately and underrepresented both at Vassar and in the rest of the world.
—Aja Brady-Saalfeld ‘15 is Design Editor of The Miscellany News. She is a German major.