An Open Letter to the Brown Daily Herald: You Are Hurting Us, and You Don’t Care

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To The Brown Daily Herald:

At your event, Legislating Same-Sex Marriage: All eyes on Rhode Island we, the demonstrators pictured, were not, as you reported, protesting “the invitation of Christopher Plante, the regional director for the National Organization for Marriage,” but rather, protesting you.

We were protesting the Brown Daily Herald and the Taubman Center for Public Policy’s decision to put together a homophobic, damaging, and reductive panel on same-sex marriage without consulting LGBTQ students. Your selection of certain speakers demonstrates a complete disregard for whom this debate actually affects – namely, the LGBTQ community and LGBTQ families. Giving a speaking platform to panelists such as Rev. Thomas Petri, O.P., who repeatedly drew allusions between same-sex marriage, polygamy and incest, and Dr. Celia Wolf-Devine, who suggested that a student audience member raised by two mothers could suffer damage from being raised by two mothers sometime in the future, shows a complete disregard for the mental and emotional health of those intimately affected by the “issue” of same-sex marriage.

Nicole Hasslinger ’15, who protested this event alongside myself and thirteen other students, spent much of the night before the panel awake and anxious about it. Throughout the panel, she felt physically sick. At certain points, so did I. Other students I have talked to declined to attend because the event sounded too upsetting for them to even be in the room for. After hearing some of the speakers’ homophobic remarks, and in certain cases, personal attacks (as you noted, unapologetically), I am glad they chose to put their mental and emotional health first in not attending.

Furthermore, by choosing these speakers, there was no space to have a productive conversation that was not based on defending our queer identities. Rather than discuss the material realities of marriage policy, discuss strategies for achieving marriage equality, or even question the validity of the legalization of gay marriage as a goal, the discussion was reduced to a tired, homophobic, and frankly, largely unintellectual debate of whether LGBTQ individuals have the same worth as other Americans. Do you truly think that this is a legitimate debate – whether or not I am worth less as a person because I am gay?

When queer and allied students approached you and the Taubman Center with our concerns before this event, these concerns were largely ignored and brushed aside. The tape over our mouths represented how you, through this panel, silenced us. How you felt that our very identities, our worth, and validity as human beings were up for debate, and how you felt that it was appropriate to do so in a panel largely made up of  straight-identified individuals. Queer people are not objects for your journalistic amusement – this “issue” intimately affects our lives.

LGBTQ students on this campus told you that your event would hurt us. It is now two days after the event, and I am telling you that your event, in fact, did.

Are you listening?

I was bullied for my identity growing up. Your treatment of LGBTQ students on this campus feels remarkably similar. Whether you intend to or not, you are actively contributing to our marginalization.

You can stop. But you have to be willing to listen.

And if you are reading this letter with no intent to do that, with no remorse, no empathy, nor intent to change how you treat your LBGTQ peers on this campus, you’ll need to accept that the way you are enacting your “commit[ment] to the free exchange of ideas” is frankly, oppressive.

-Kyle Albert ‘15, blog editor, would love to open a productive dialogue on this issue. He can be reached at kyle_albert@brown.edu

Thank you to Nicole Hasslinger, who helped with writing much of this letter, and to all other demonstrators and audience members who vocally or silently expressed their disappointment and anger with this event.

Photo taken by Alexandra Urban of the Brown Daily Herald

Kyle Albert

Kyle spends most of their time thinking about how feminism and queerness intersect with everything else in their life. When they’re not blogging for bluestockings, talking about structural violence, or avoiding jogging at all costs, they study Gender and Sexuality Studies and Sociology at Brown University. They’re not quite sure where their life is heading, but if it ends up involving tea, gummy bears, crewneck sweatshirts, and some sort of work towards collective liberation, they think they’ll be pretty okay with it. They tweet (sometimes angrily) at @KyleAlbert.

10 Comments
    1. I think Adam’s point is that Woo is gay, and therefore the panel was equitable? Because a panel about a minority’s rights with a single representative of that minority is equitable? Especially because Woo, as one queer person, represents all queer voices on this topic, despite their being a multiplicity of political and social opinions on it within the queer community? Some of which sharply critique the institution of marriage as classist and racist, or worry that we will end up like the South African LGBTQ rights movement did after marriage equality, without funding and utterly sidelined? I think? Because we are an object to be discussed, and therefore it doesn’t matter whether we are actually part of the discussion about us or not?

      1. Spot-on. Can Woo speak on the behalf of all queer people and others who currently are unable to legalize their “unchaste” conception of marriage? Can he speak on the behalf of lesbian women? of bisexual people, who may for example favor polygamy? of religious advocates who support alternative forms of marriage? of trans people who often face difficulty if they decide to transition in the midst of their marriage? of all people who perhaps do not view the current conception of marriage to include their own desires, needs, and perspectives?

        The Janus Forum previously held an incredibly insightful and provocative panel on marriage equality, which included NOM’s Maggie Gallagher. Unlike this panel, it discussed the logistics, legality, politics, and societal implications of same-sex marriage legalized. This panel, however, was not a dialogue on same-sex marriage, but instead an homily on the legitimacy of queer identities and people.

        Also, for the many who have personally faced an innumerate variety of heterosexist and homophobic forms of discriminatory and exclusionary experiences, do you believe silence helps counteract the abuse we face because of our sexual identities and proclivities? Even if we have previously felt uncomfortable with or hurt by the words and actions of the people who were invited to attend the panel, should we stay at home instead of speak up about our own identities and desires? I’ve seen how ineffective the approach of silence is by those who are being bullied or abused. Silence is not the answer, but part of the problem. I’m proud of everyone who voiced their opinions at the panel, even if some may read their actions as excessive or unfounded.

        Even though I personally am opposed to marriage on a very personal level for myself at this time in my life, the desire of others to marry those they love should not be curtailed by the trite, dogmatic, unscientific, and paternalistic convictions of those who were present at their panels. Never once in their lives have they had to justify their own heterosexuality nor argue the case for their own marriages. Yet why is it that they are the ones who have been invited to this panel and paid to attend with money we spend on tuition? There’s only one word for that, and that’s privilege. This is not a matter of opinion, but an illumination on how ‘separate, but equal’ does not ring true, today or ever.

        The Taubman Center’s tepid response bespeaks their condonation of heterosexism and their inattentiveness to the vast diversity of perspectives on marriage. Is a prevalence of heteronormativity within their office and its pedigree as the root cause for this? I’m not sure, but this panel suggests that perhaps we should censure the Taubman Center instead of decrying a panel that has already passed.

  1. I’m not sure I understand this. You went to this event, which you knew would upset you, to protest it for upsetting you… and now you’re protesting Brown for letting you do so?

    It sounds like you–like the others who chose to attend, and like those who chose not to attend–had a good idea of what to expect from the speakers. You were able to make an informed decision about the panel beforehand; in fact, you chose to protest it. But guess what? You didn’t have to choose to protest it. You could have just not gone. As an adult, you can choose to avoid situations that you know will disturb you. You can choose not to watch gory movies, and you can choose not to attend panel discussions that you’ll find offensive.

    In some cases, it is justifiable to take on the burden of emotional distress in order to stand up for what you think is right. But in this case, you knew you’d be taking on a lot of distress for a minimal chance of making a positive change in the world, and you chose to attend anyway. You’re not a martyr, you’re a masochist, and now you’re just whining. Brown–not to mention the real world–has no responsibility to hold your hand and tell you which movies to watch or which panels to attend.

    I’m sorry that you felt there was “no space to have a productive conversation” for *you* in this event, but a discussion isn’t valueless by virtue of the fact that it offends you personally. I didn’t go and I honestly don’t know anyone who did, but there’s a good chance the panel was seen as worthwhile by the students who were able to dismiss ridiculous ideas instead of getting worked up about them.

    1. Discourse can have effects on people who are not present for it. I think the protesters felt rightly compelled to voice their objection to the replication at Brown of a debate which profoundly disrespects and materially harms them, even if their objection will not make that discourse go away.

  2. Emily,

    if I may, I think some misunderstanding lies in the fact that the way that some members of the panel spoke about same-sex marriage is not just emotionally upsetting to some audience members, but is part of an ideology that marginalizes queer voices on a large scale.

    Initially, Albert’s implication that the BDH made an active choice to marginalize queer viewpoints may seem like a mischaracterization — after all, the BDH was just attempting to passively represent the main voices influencing the debate in Rhode Island. However, whether or not the BDH claims to agree with the panelists, to give them a forum to speak is to support them in their ideological work, to allow their voices to reach people and to ensconce them in a podium. The BDH and the Taubman center in fact faced a very real choice, of whether to lend their power — their stage — to mainstream voices, some of which are oppressive in effect, or to a set of panelists chosen to create a productive and inclusive discussion. They chose the former, and though perhaps implicit, it was a choice.

    A positive aspect of reproducing the mainstream viewpoints in this forum is that it informs the Brown audience of what they are, which is important. Luckily for us, though, every other item of mainstream media we encounter is willing to provide us that service. I think Albert’s critique stands.

    Austen

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