Monday, April 27, 2009

College Republicans hold "Conservative Coming Out" day, compare their "discomfort" to the struggles of LGBTQIA community

Kos recently mocked the GOP for being dependent on unpopular dinosaurs for their party's leadership; people like Dick Cheney, Newt Gingrich, and Karl Rove are still hitting the airwaves to get the Republican message out. But after seeing some of the cynical ideas put forward by conservatives and College Republicans at my university, I'm not so sure that this isn't the best strategy they've got.

I recently wrote about The Conservative Leadership Alliance's invitation of anti-Islam author Robert Spencer to Washington University. At that time, I was critical of Spencer because he claimed that one cannot practice Islam without posing a threat to equality and freedom. However, since then, I learned that he is even more abominable than I imagined. Spencer is so far off the deep end that fellow right-winger Larry Johnson recently criticized him for his affiliations with right-wing hate groups. The tipping-point for Johnson, it seems, is that Spencer joined a facebook group calling for the forced sterilization, expulsion, and euthanasia of the Muslim population of Turkey. Spencer apparently claimed that he accidently joined this group, but he has a lot of sketchy connections that call this claim into question. And this is who the CLA decided to invite to our university to woo new people to their cause. Brilliant.

The most recent stunning display of insensitivity was the College Republican's decision to hold a "Conservative Coming Out Day." The premise of this day, in their words, was the following: "While the intent of this day is not to mock the LGBTQIA movement, we are using similar language because we can empathize with people who may feel uncomfortable with being open about their sexual identity." They go on to suggest that the reason they can empathize is because, "the entire University operates under the assumption that every one of its members shares a liberal value system."

Despite the fact that the College Republicans are smart enough not to say anything that indicates that they are mocking the LGBTQIA community, the co-opting of the term "coming out" for the day is obnoxious for a number of reasons. First, as StudLife columnist Eve Samborn notes, the Republican Party has a history of homophobia that is at odds with the empathy that the Republicans profess. It would be one thing if in writing their column the College Republicans explicitly called for full equality for members of the LGBTQIA community, or condemned homophobic behavior. However, they instead wrote a carefully crafted letter that claimed they "empathized" without actually explicitly condemning homophobia. Of course, if they did explicitly criticize homophobia, they would likely alienate many members of the Republican Party. Nevertheless, this is the type of courage that one would expect from them if they truly "empathized." As Samborn writes:
At best, the chosen event name represents gross negligence. At worst, it misappropriates the term “coming out,” a long-standing rhetorical symbol of gay liberation, to serve a movement that oppresses and marginalizes the LGBTQIA community. This linguistic theft is both offensive and morally wrong.
Second, being "conservative," unlike, say, one's sexual orientation, is a choice. Being a Republican means that you have chosen to identify yourself with the party that gave us eight years of war, torture, and economic collapse. The fact that most college students disagree with Republican ideology does not mean that Republicans are oppressed in any way. It just means that other people have different opinions than they do. Maybe the College Republicans have good reasons for believing what they do, but there certainly are a lot of good reasons that can explain why the majority of the campus disagrees with them, and thinks that their worldview is mistaken.

Finally, and most importantly, is the fact that Republican "discomfort" does not begin to approach the kinds of discrimination that members of the LGBTQIA have had to endure. The claim that, "the entire University operates under the assumption that every one of its members shares a liberal value system" is flat-out wrong. The academic community is a community that values disagreement, and the expression of different opinions. It values it so much, in fact, that it allows clear racists like Robert Spencer to speak on campus, even though most of the campus would find him repulsive. Republican "discomfort" consists primarily in the fact that they don't win many arguments on campus.

Compare this to a group that has actually suffered real discrimination as a result of their sexual orientation. The Op-Ed from the Pride Alliance Executive Board sums it up perfectly:
Queer students at the University feel more than just “uncomfortable” about negotiating the daunting task of coming out to their friends, family, employers, coworkers and teachers. Many feel threatened on a daily basis, and some are altogether unable to live openly.

Last week, for example, an award ceremony was held in Holmes Lounge to honor 1990 alumnus James Holobaugh, an ROTC cadet whose University scholarship was revoked by the U.S. Army after he came out as gay. Holobaugh’s case, though nearly 20 years old, would be treated no differently today. Because of the U.S. military’s policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” excluding gays and lesbians from serving openly, LGBTQIA students at our University who have come out are currently banned from participating in its ROTC scholarship program. Queer University students who wish to enlist in our country’s armed forces are expressly prohibited from coming out.
Thus we have the modern conservative movement inviting racists to college campuses and shallowly stealing terms from human rights movements in an attempt to get other people to feel sorry for the fact that they hold worldviews at odds with the last eight years of hard data. If I were asked to book a conservative for Meet the Press, I think I might call up Newt Gingrich as well.

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