Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Hate in the LGBTQ Center

The affirming post-its in the LGBTQ Center
Last week I was arranging materials on a table in the LGBTQ Center, and a student standing near me said, "hey, what's that?" I turned to my left and inside the Center, behind the door, were the words "God hates fags" in orange marker on the wall.

I walked away to collect myself for a moment and call Security.

A little less than two months ago, Westboro Baptist Church was at the school, protesting us and using that very same phrase on some of their signs. It seemed no accident that this quintessential WBC phrase was now scrawled on the inside wall of our LGBTQ Center.

As the administrator email flurry began in response, immediately someone suggested that there had been many high school students on the campus and they hadn't been well supervised. Perhaps one of them had slipped into the Center and done this? And there it was--that comforting reflex of disbelief, of denial that it could have been a student who attends this progressive school, a student who every day shares dorms and classrooms and social spaces with their LGBTQ peers.

But of course, it did come from inside. It's just too great of a coincidence that a random person from outside the school would incidentally choose to use the same phrase that was so analyzed and discussed throughout the beginning of spring semester. I even suspect that it comes from inside the LGBTQ community--someone struggling with their demons, someone who uses the Center so who knows when it would be empty, someone who is hurting. It's no excuse for their behavior, but I wish that person would come talk to me, would come struggle aloud instead of through marker scrawl.

The vandalism happened on a Friday, and on Monday, the bias response team met to discuss how we would act. We agreed that the campus is exhausted from the number of intense, critical conversations we've had this year, and the student representative on the team suggested that we go totally in a different direction and celebrate the LGBTQ community.

And so we had a day of reclaiming the Center--the campus was invited to come and write affirming messages on post-it notes and we peppered the outside and one of the inside walls of the Center with fluorescent love. It was a poetic response: using hundreds of post-its of love to drown out that one erased phrase of hate. Some samples:
"Stand firm, stand tall"
"People should be free to love the people they love. End of discussion."
"If God is love, then God loves all!"

The Center felt welcoming and warm and many of the allies and community members who came to post a note admitted that they had never been in the Center before. So actually, the vandal helped increase the profile and visibility of the LGBTQ Center, potentially connecting more people to the services we provide.

Dealing with hate speech vandalism is unfortunately par for the course in all colleges and universities, so after a while, it can feel futile and exhausting. But this effort reminded me that even if we can't prevent every instance of identity-based vandalism on this campus, it never hurts to pour on more love and support.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. What a wonderful rainbow after the storm! :)