To the Editor:
Last week, in response to an ongoing boycott of Toad’s Place organized by the Queer Political Action Committee, the News’ View called for a “truly productive dialogue” between the LGBT community and a nightclub that persists in inviting violently homophobic artists (“Dialogue is needed to silence hate speech,” 9/14). As a member of QPAC, I could not agree more that dialogue, rather than catchy sound-bites, is essential to solving the problem of hatred in our midst, but the authors do not do justice to QPAC’s numerous and diverse attempts at civil communication.
For any Yalie reading the News, QPAC may seem like an organization that just uses slogans and loud voices to spoil the fun of a Wednesday night dance party. Yes, we do run protests and hold signs to be heard above the buzz of class work, a cappella, intramurals and fraternities. But a casual observer does not see the countless e-mails QPAC sends to Toad’s, or the phone calls asking for a meeting. Nor do they see the indifferent (or nonexistent) replies from Toad’s. In fact, if a reader sat in on a QPAC meeting, he or she might be surprised to hear members discussing the least-militant way to address the issue or the way we plan for a small, non-confrontational meeting with Brian Phelps. Protesting or addressing only the newspaper without talking to a decision maker is always plan B. Any efficiency-minded Yalie could appreciate our desire to be as effective as possible with the least work; a protest requires far more energy than simple, direct dialogue. We only rely on the so-called “safety of these pages” because this paper is the closest we can get to Phelps himself. Yet the quiet aspect of our struggle is not portrayed. This is not a failing of the newspaper so much as the nature of news itself; it is the fate of many activist groups on campus that strive toward reconciliation and dialogue and are rarely seen because they lack the drama of outright conflict.
The News’ View is needlessly skeptical of QPAC’s attempts to contact Phelps, claiming “reporters don’t seem to have too much trouble” reaching the owner of Toad’s. The comparison between reporters and activists is erroneous. For, however we may gently temper our requests for a dialogue, QPAC comes to any such meeting with an agenda Phelps seems determined to ignore; and Phelps does not want to be in the unenviable position of refusing to acknowledge the hateful lyrics or Beenie Man, Capleton and Buju Banton. A reporter, coming with no agenda other than a desire to gather information, would have a far easier time accessing Phelps than even the friendliest activist.
The editorial also misses the mark when underestimating the outrage of the LGBT community. Many conversations with people in the community, outside of QPAC, have revealed a general distaste for the club’s repeated billing of violently homophobic artists. Though such students may not raise their voices in front of Toad’s, they are voting with their feet by refusing to attend concerts and parties there. Indeed, when Beenie Man performed two years ago, on the anniversary of the death of Matthew Shepherd — a young man murdered for being gay — there was a considerable outpouring of anxiety and a sizable protest before QPAC ever existed.
Though I firmly believe these protests and this boycott are necessary in the face of Beenie Man and Capleton’s hateful lyrics and their accompanying violence, I understand that such protests sometimes come at a painful price. As Brian Phelps continues to ignore our attempts at dialogue, QPAC continues to express outrage, and the opening for civil discussion seems to narrow; perhaps these protests have rendered Phelps more antagonistic towards QPAC than he once was. Still, if Phelps has hardened against stopping hate speech, our protests should not be misread as a wish to stop communication. Sign-waving is not an attempt to close dialogue, but an invitation to speak. These actions are QPAC’s forceful plea that some discussion take place. When met with Phelps’ stonewall, engaged and conscientious members of the queer community are left with two choices: We must either raise our voices or remain passive all together in the face of lyrics that encourage gay-bashing murder. The protest chants may dampen the mood of a Toad’s patron’s Wednesday night, but gay, straight, queer or other, we must all consider the terribly high cost of silence.
Jessie Theobald-Ellner ’08
Sept. 18, 2006
The writer is a member of QPAC.