As members of the Vassar community have undoubtedly heard by now, the Westboro Baptist Church will picket Vassar next week for its open support of the LGBTQ community. After news of the protest broke last week, the College has responded in a terrific way—with solidarity, magnanimity, and thoughtfulness.
We at The Miscellany News applaud the efforts of the student body, faculty, administration and alumnae/i thus far, but we also see opportunities for the anti-Westboro movement to become even more inclusive, effective and supportive.
First, we cannot continue to appropriate the WBC-coined term “Ivy League Whorehouse.” We understand that the natural initial reaction to the term has been to adopt it satirically. To some small extent, doing so diffuses its hurtfulness, and of WBC’s attack as a whole.
But we cannot give power to their vitriol, and identifying ourselves as members of an “Ivy League Whorehouse” for any period of time is ultimately counter-productive. We must acknowledge the gendered and malicious history of the word “whore,” and we cannot use it so offhandedly, even in jest. We cannot willingly apply the term to our institution, or assume that everyone around us is tolerant of it. We, the Vassar community, are not an “Ivy League Whorehouse,” and we should counter the WBC with positive, honest labels.
Second, we could improve our response by reaching out to other groups targeted by the Westboro Baptist Church. Although their primary reason for gathering at Vassar is their feeling toward the LGBTQ community, we must not overlook the fact that they are similarly hateful toward Jewish, Muslim and Catholic people, as well as many others. The more comprehensive our approach to making targeted groups feel safe, the better. We must focus on the intersectionality of our campus. Historically, gay white males have had the most visibility in the LGBTQ community. Although they too are recipients of the WBC’s hatred, and deserve to have their voices heard and rights protected, we must also be sure thatall members of our LGBTQ community—people of all races, ethnicities, genders and sexual orientations—feel safe and represented.
Additionally, amid this atmosphere of heightened emotions and our continuing public drive to fight intolerance, we must keep in mind the wide range of experiences and identities held by members of our community.
The Westboro Baptist Church’s displays of bigotry and queerphobia may spur many members of our community to speak out, share their stories and visibly counter-protest. But the WBC may also bring up traumas for others. Just as we must take care to hear and respect the voices of all who want to speak, we must also respect the choices and privacy of those who feel triggered or threatened at this time. We must also remember and make use of the ready availability of student groups like CARES, The Listening Center (TLC) and Queer Coalition of Vassar College (QCVC).
The job that the Vassar community has done in raising funds for the Trevor Project has been remarkable. However, it is important to realize that there are many other LGBTQ organizations, especially local ones, that need help.
We are not questioning the effectiveness of the Trevor Project, but it is a large, recognizable, national organization, and one that would continue to excel at its goal of providing suicide prevention and support for LGBTQ youth, whether it received a donation from Vassar or not. Do Something VC has recently set up a website which encourages students to donate to two LGBTQ charities: The Ali Forney Center,which focuses on homelessness among New York LGBTQ youth, and the Hudson Valley Chapter of the Gay, Lesbian, & Straight Education Network. Similarly, there are countless other programs more in need of aid, particularly smaller, regional organizations like the Audre Lorde Project, a New York City-based group that specializes in promoting justice for LGBTQ people of color. Smaller groups would benefit far more from a concerted charity effort.
Lastly, as we draw nearer to the WBC’s appearance on Thursday the 28th, we must remember the remarkable LGBTQ advocacy our community has accomplished, both in the last few weeks and throughout Vassar’s history. Though the day of WBC’s protest will be an exciting opportunity to have our voices heard face-to-face with the opposition, we must maintain our dignity. We at The Miscellany News implore students who plan to counter-protest to treat the day with the seriousness it deserves, and to please not pre-game the event. Out of respect for our current students, alumni/ae and all who have contributed to the legacy of Vassar as an inclusive, respectful and progressive institution, be respectful of your peers and their efforts on the day of the protest.
So far, our reaction to the WBC protest has been good. Let’s make it great.
—The Staff Editorial represents the opinion of at least 2/3 of the Editorial Board.