Late-night news in “Giant Inflatable Penis-gate,” as the queer community has moved quickly to respond to the controversial editorial published in Wednesday’s Spectator. In addition to the factual errors, the editorial is also attracting controversy for alleging that Queer Awareness Month “must be sure to focus on awareness and education before revelry.” The “revelry” in question was Genderfuck, the underwear-only party held this past Saturday night.

Word of the editorial spread quickly through queer organizations on campus. About 20 students (including several leaders of the queer community) commented on the original editorial, and the Spectator uploaded Thursday’s letters to the editor before the rest of the site was updated. In addition, seven student groups have sent a letter to the Spec editorial board, calling the editorial “inaccurate, sensationalized, misinformed, and malicious” and demanding “sufficient space be given in the immediate future to concerned groups and individuals to offer editorial responses.” Finally, plans are already in place for a “kiss-in”/protest at the Spec‘s offices tomorrow at 12:15 PM.

In addition to publishing Thursday’s letters early, the Spec is considering a meeting with queer groups on campus, and a source tells Bwog that editor-in-chief Tom Faure will be penning an explanation of the editorial process in the same issue. The letter from the student groups to the Spec editorial board is posted after the jump.

UPDATE 3:26 AM: Faure’s aforementioned letter is also posted after the jump.

Dear Tom, Amanda, & Miriam,

We read with disappointment and outrage the inaccurate, sensationalized, misinformed, and malicious Spectator Editorial Board editorial in today’s newspaper.

As individuals and organizations, a thorough and diverse response is necessary to unpack and respond to the multifaceted slander that you allowed to be published in our campus newspaper.

The undersigned organizations respectfully request that sufficient space be given in the immediate future to concerned groups and individuals to offer editorial responses.

A response is appreciated as soon as possible, as this issue is urgent and of utmost importance to a significant number of individuals on this campus.

In disappointment,

Ira Stup on behalf of

Everyone Allied Against Homophobia, Lucha, The Columbia Queer Alliance, Gayava, Queer Awareness Month, Students for a Democratic Society, & The Columbia University Democrats

Spectator Editor-in-Chief Tom Faure Responds

In Wednesday’s issue we ran an editorial on Queer Awareness Month that has received a number of comments, most of which took offense at the tone and implications of the piece. Given the personal level of some of the responses, I’d like to address how the editorial came about and why we ran it. The intent behind such a piece was not to strike a tone of disrespect or remonstration but rather to offer constructive criticism. I apologize for offending organizers and members of the communities that worked hard during QuAM and continue to do so outside of the flagship month of support.

As the editorial states, we support and appreciate the hard work of various LGBTQ groups on campus. These efforts have engaged the community and drawn auspicious response – both in the size of event attendance and in the eclectic nature of the programming. These events have grown by leaps and bounds in the last few years – I’ve witnessed it in my 3.5 years here. Our argument was that QuAM could still be better – what political movement on campus is perfect, after all? – and we wanted to point to the main way we think the series could grow next year. I think more advertising could be done about the diversity of the programming offered. While the editorial board does not want to generalize and objectify the LGBTQ communities on campus, we felt it would benefit next year’s QuAM to be careful about the potential perceptions about queer issues – parties for better or worse can seem more frivolous than an educational panel. Our point, a light one, is undermined by the heavy-handed language and inaccuracies of the piece, burying what could have been interesting issues to debate. Rather than offering support and constructive criticism, the tone is flippant and undercuts the organizers’ work.

We made an unpopular call, but one we believe in theory holds water. We believe some students did feel that events such as Genderfuck were more publicized than the more academic programming. This may have arisen because of the very nature of the event, which does not mean we think pushing boundaries, or simply holding a party, are bad things. Rather we attempted to make the point that, perhaps inevitably, an event like this one could appear to promote an overly narrow definition of queer self-actualization and of sexuality in general – this is a point that I believe does hold true with certain queer and non-queer individuals.

A few online commenters derided such individuals, such “timid little queers.” This is unfortunate, for there are many ways, we can probably all agree, to explore sexuality. The queer community is not monolithic, and there are diverse ways to self-actualize in a number of campus communities. Rather than contribute to harmful and ignorant generalizations, which we do not support, we support confronting and deconstructing these generalizations. That doesn’t mean we think exploring sexuality and gender in the ways Genderfuck did is bad – our editorial strove to reflect the importance of QuAM while pointing out that the academic events could still benefit from more publicity. The intention behind this point in our editorial was not to demonize nor downplay the efforts of queer organizers, and I’m truly sorry that the piece has had this effect. Perhaps we were wrong to imply that such events were poorly attended – they can certainly still gain from more exposure, though.

This issue involves not only LGBTQ group organizers, but the administration, governing boards, councils, and the campus newspaper. On this last: please note that our mission as the campus paper is to offer a platform for discussion, and despite limited space I do think Spec‘s mission is to break down barriers rather than marginalize the community. We’re all students of various and complex backgrounds, and any appearance of bias toward one form of self-affiliated or ascribed identity is accidental.

That said, the dangers of language in journalism are issues we are aware of and confront everyday. We know we’re imperfect on this account, as are all media outlets (that I know of). The tone of the editorial lent too much to an air of distance from the queer organizing efforts, rather than expressing support. One problematic sentence in particular suggested that Genderfuck could discourage non-queer students from participating. The “Education, Not Jubilation” headline also accidentally slams the efforts – we did not want to patronize, nor suggest that education and jubilation are mutually exclusive. I regret that this compounds the problem of our inaccuracies.

The inaccuracies were blatant and unfortunate. The assumption made about the inflatable penis went without proper fact-checking (may have been a confusion experienced at the time stemming from the many visual ways LGBTQ groups have organized events on College Walk, such as the balloon arch over Alma), and the confusion of QuAM and CQA was lazy. We made an effort to post a correction as soon as possible online, rather than simply wait for the next day’s issue. Hopefully this begins to help mitigate opinions based on inaccuracies and false assumptions. We are also printing letters to the editor in Thursday’s issue that take issue with the editorial.

We trust our writers, the members of the editorial board – we rely on them to report and craft a daily statement representing the voice of the editorial board. Ideas for editorials are discussed in bi-weekly meetings by our board, an outline is crafted in advance and commented on, and one writer than prepares a draft. The writers are selected more or less randomly based on availability and scheduling. No editorial represents a single writer’s or member’s opinion.

To criticize a political organization is not the same as a fundamental aversion to the members of that group – a phobia is an irrational fear. We sought to provide a rational, constructive criticism, one that ultimately has sparked discussion, but unfortunately not the kind of constructive discussion intended. This is a setback and I apologize again to this effect.