Question Not The Columbia Underwear Party

A Columbia Spectator editorial recently criticized the allocation of resources and publicity for the school’s Queer Awareness Month activities. Here’s the nub of their editorial:

..the organization largely focused on promoting events that emphasized sex over awareness. The Genderf**k party—where attendees donned only underwear—bore more of a resemblance to a raucous First Friday Dance than a laid-back affair where people could casually discuss sexuality.
If Queer Awareness Month’s events are meant to raise awareness of LGBT issues, then QuAM has emphasized the wrong events in its schedule. Though parties like Genderf**k may be a roaring good time, they can also alienate students uncomfortable with broadcasting their sexuality. Further, such openly sexual revelry can discourage members of the straight community from attending. Instead, the group should focus on promoting the month’s educational events with the same energy as it advertises its parties.

This produced a number of letters to the Spectator, and, yesterday, a protest of some 20 students outside their offices. The Spectator reports:

“We came out to swiftly and powerfully get the message both to the campus and Spectator how offensive and incorrect the article was and how disappointing it was that it came from a staff editorial and not a submission,” said Everyone Allied Against Homophobia Co-President Ira Stup, GS/JTS ’09.
The protest, which was coordinated by an informal coalition of LGBT students and advertised by several related groups, took place on Broadway below Spectator’s 112th Street office. Participants held a large rainbow flag, distributed pink paper triangles on which messages could be written, and conducted a brief “kiss-in.”
….
Many members of QuAM, CQA, and associated groups felt that the editorial was heteronormative and did not sufficiently take into account the month’s full scope of programming and events.
“We have just as much right to dance with boys if we’re boys or girls if we’re girls,” QuAM Co-Coordinator Joseph Daniels, CC ’09, said. “We don’t have to tone ourselves down.”

There were some errors in the editorial, and it’s understandable that the group took offense to them. Most revealing though, are the complaints, found in the protest and in letters to the Spectator, taking offense that the more explicit activities (the “Genderf**k party”) were even criticized. One letter to the Spectator suggested that their editorial “demonizes the exploration of queer sexuality and gender expression” arguing that “self acceptance and celebration are key components, communally and personally, in overcoming the paralyzing impact of LGBT sexual shaming.” This is a familiar line of argument whenever LGBT events are criticized for their explicitness. Queer groups argue that conventions of propriety or tradition are merely heterosexual constraints upon the free expression of their identity. In 2006, for one, when an LGBT group was criticized for chalking genitalia around the Swarthmore campus, they justified their effort as a “questioning of heteronormative culture.” When can this explanation fail? What party can’t it justify? It’s amazing, in this case, to see the Spectator’s advocacy of educational efforts brushed aside as “offensive.” Yet if an LGBT group decides that underwear parties are an essential element of an oppressed minority’s identity (and worth spending student fees on), who will argue with them? Typically no one. Encomiums to the Spectator for an uncharacteristically sensible editorial on the matter; let’s hope there’s not a retraction in the offing.

Anthony Paletta

Anthony Paletta is a freelance writer.

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