“It is the closet that is our sin and our shame,” lesbian activist and publisher Barbara Grier said as she encouraged men and women to “come out.” Wednesday was National Coming Out Day, a day created to celebrate acceptance and openness with one’s identity and to recognize the understanding, love and positive feelings that are born from that openness. It may seem rather obvious that acceptance and openness are good things, but here at Yale we had the good fortune yesterday to see that not everyone on campus is so enlightened, to see that for some, the “sin” is being gay.
While the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Cooperative was finishing last-minute preparations for the day’s activities, an anonymous student or group of students had already been at work to recognize the day in a different, negative way. An e-mail sent to many students asked the question, “Are you … [a] homophobe?” and answered ingeniously, “So was JESUS.” In the spirit of the day, the e-mail continued: “There’s no shame in being who you are. Just remember, admitting it doesn’t make it right.” The campus was also plastered with signs bearing clever statements such as, “Paris [Hilton] is coming out as a whore” followed by the refrain, “Admitting it doesn’t make it right.” Both the e-mails and the posters claim to be supported by the obviously fictitious group “the National Organization to Gain Acceptance for Your Sins,” or in simpler phrasing, “NO GAYS.”
In more ways than one, this is shocking. By most measures, our campus is one of diversity and acceptance. LGBTQ students are found in conservative groups, on sports teams and in nearly every other type of organization at Yale. Although arguments against same-sex marriage and gays in the military are not unfamiliar, a direct, public attack on a group of students is unprecedented in my time here. The e-mail goes so far as to suggest a similarity between LGBTQ students and Nazis. The spirit of the e-mails and posters has far more in common with the Nazi culture of hate than openly gay students do.
I do not make the mistake of imagining our campus is free of homophobia or even that it afflicts only a few among us, yet I have no doubt that yesterday’s posters and e-mails were the act of but a few persons. The homophobia I have witnessed on campus is one stemming from discomfort and unfamiliarity. Its expression sometimes results in painful feelings for a student, but it does not reek of open hate. Although religion has been used repeatedly in our nation as a missile launcher against the LGBTQ community’s home front, religious students are some of the most accepting people I know at Yale. They tend to embrace the spirit of love from their religions and to embrace each person they encounter for who he is. Yesterday’s signs and e-mails are emblematic not of religiosity or of discomfort but of glaring hate. For this, they should be of concern to all of the Yale community, for though our campus should not be one of quiet harmony, neither should it be one marked by innominate ignominy.
I have often thought that Yale is a place where someone can be a student who happens to be gay, rather than a student who must put his gay identity first and foremost: Before yesterday, it always seemed that students didn’t have to work hard to earn acceptance at Yale. However, the depth of the homophobia emblematic in this kind of attack requires all enlightened students, gay and straight, to endeavor toward universal acceptance. We cannot be as carefree and apathetic as may have seemed previously possible. We must all express our belief that it is OK for a person to be who he is and that everyone should accept him and his identity. Public expressions of acceptance may be forced and even intrinsically awkward, but with a faceless opposition, we have no other option.
Thousands of people in the United States had the courage to come out yesterday, attaching their faces to their identities. It is lamentable that, on this day of acceptance and openness, some at Yale proclaimed their hate via e-mail and poster yet lacked the courage to show their faces or ascribe their names.
Patrick Ward is a junior in Branford College.