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Groups Respond to Inflatable Penis Controversy, Plan Protest Outside Spec

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.

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  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Reading Tom’s response, I think I now understand what part of the problem is. He refers to QuAM more than once as a “political” organization, and maybe if we were talking about a student group aimed at, say, improving the standing of GLBT people in human rights-violating regimes around the world, the editorial board’s complaint that the event wasn’t sufficiently academic might make sense. However, I don’t think QuAM is really supposed to be a political movement. Some people, both straight and queer, choose to consider being queer as an intrinsically political/ideological thing, but it isn’t and shouldn’t be. Maybe some subset of QuAM’s aims could be considered political, but there are many other aspects to it as well. Having a queer identity means many different things to different people, and a celebration of queer sexuality is part of that.

    1. wow says:

      @wow very well said

  • The problem is says:

    @The problem is these groups are reacting to Spec as if this editorial is an attack on their homosexuality, when it isn’t. Shouldn’t these groups be happy that instead of being marginalized like they have been for so many years, their permeance in our society has given them the ability to be criticized for something other than their homosexuality.

    1. oh my god says:

      @oh my god THANK YOU! Thank you so much for giving me the right to be criticized for celebrating my sexuality. So now, its okay for me to be gay, as long as I don’t celebrate it TOO much and I make sure that I educate others about it. Society sure has come a long way in the last 50 years. I’ll keep this in mind in the future. In the mean time, would you mind just doing the same and not celebrating your sexuality quite as much? Just make sure that I don’t really see it. It makes me uncomfortable.

      your ignorance astounds me.

      1. Impartial says:

        @Impartial Well said.

  • nope says:

    @nope It shouldn’t. It would be different if it was an editorial saying “As a gay person, this is my perspective on…”, but it isn’t. Its “As the Spec Editorial Board, this is our perspective on…”

  • nope says:

    @nope It shouldn’t. It would be different if it was an editorial saying “As a gay person, this is my perspective on…”, but it isn’t. Its “As the Spec Editorial Board, this is our perspective on…”

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Derpa doo.

  • the editorial says:

    @the editorial Was written by a gay person. Should that matter?

  • One of the gays says:

    @One of the gays It is a point well taken that the lectures could be more publicized, but considering the venue, the number of attendees that determines a successful lecture versus a successful party plays a major factor into the hype that goes into planning those dances.

    I don’t think Spec has anything to recant, and it’s not like our rights are being denied in any sense. But it’s a shoddily written editorial that seems to ignore the fact that the parties are meant to be inclusive, meaning anyone can show up if they want. I personally did not go to GenderFuck because I wouldn’t feel comfortable at that party, but that’s my own issue, not one for the community at large. I don’t think anyone can mention the last time there was a party like that for queer people on campus. Too often I attend heteronormative parties with the same attention to sexuality, and as the only gay person, I wind up feeling exactly the way Spec describes straight people as feeling at QuAMs social events. So until all dorm parties are approved as queer-inclusive, I don’t think Queer Awareness Month’s social events deserve any criticism you wouldn’t give to a frat party for being non-queer-inclusive. It’s about damn time this kind of party existed for queer people. If it’s at the expense of a heterosexual couple looking for a night out on the town, I could care less, and I think Spec board should too.

  • best part says:

    @best part of the correction:

    “The editorial also misstated that a giant inflatable penis was part of QuAM’s opening tabling. It was in fact part of a different campus event.”


    1. SGIPA says:

      @SGIPA Dear commenter,

      We read with disappointment and outrage the inaccurate, sensationalized, misinformed, and malicious comment you made above.

      As individuals and organizations, a thorough and diverse response is necessary to unpack and respond to the multifaceted slander that you published on this blog.

      We 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,

      Executive board of the Students for Giant Inflatable Penis Awareness

  • doesn't says:

    @doesn't the giant inflatable penis belong to CUMB?

  • "timid little queer" says:

    @"timid little queer" Some of the events are a bit intimidating. Have just recently come out amongst a sea of straight friends, I didn’t attend any of the programming this year because I felt a bit uncomfortable. Not because I’m uncomfortable with my sexuality, because I am not, but because I’m uncomfortable at events like First Friday/Genderfuck things. They do seem to cater to those already a part of LBTQ community rather than shy newcomers.

    1. another"timid queer" says:

      @another"timid queer" As someone who is also recently out, I loved QuAM. I am still trying to figure out what being out means exactly, and I think the QuAM were educational in so many ways. You really should have attended some of the events- the community dinner, where people told their coming out stories, was especially inspiring. SO much more went on this month than just Genderfuck.

      I think the reaction to the Spec editorial was blown out of proportion- it was not by any means a homophobic editorial. It was, however, poorly researched and insensitive. I’m usually uncomfortable when events, queer or not, seem overly sexualized, and I didn’t think QuAM was like that at all. The events were very empowering. The author of that editorial really should have attended the educational events- it’s very obvious that s/he did not.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous Hi,

    Here is the aforementioned letter, which will stay posted on the editor blog. We hope to learn from this experience and generate positive dialogue in the future.

    1. Tom says:

      @Tom I think the Spec’s criticisms were valid. QuAM should take it on the chin. Clearly the Spec is not being homophobic, and looking at it as a neutral, I don’t think the intent was disrespect either. Is it that inconceivable that an event like Genderfuck wouldn’t feel very inclusive, particularly to those who want to support Gay Rights but aren’t necessarily immersed in everyday LGBT culture/activism? Lighten up guys – the tone of Ira’s email seems to suggest that they have been gravely offended, almost at the level of a hate crime.

      1. Anonymous says:

        @Anonymous Just to be clear that wasn’t Tom from Spec posting comment #4…

      2. !!! says:

        @!!! “QuAM should take it on the chin.”

        1. 123 says:

          @123 i think that means something like “suck it up” or “life’s tough, deal with it”. which, i might add, is good advice, and these groups would do well to take it. the tone of that letter fromt he student groups does sound like a hate crime has been committed — which, if you read the editorial, is far from the case. i take this to be one of the key offending passages:

          “If Queer Awareness Month’s events are meant to raise awareness of LGBT issues, then QuAM has emphasized the wrong events in its schedule. Though parties like Genderfuck may be a roaring good time, they can also alienate students uncomfortable with broadcasting their sexuality. Further, such openly sexual revelry can discourage members of the straight community from attending.”

          but how is that in any way unfair or untrue? it seems to me that the statement is completely fair, and completely true. this sort of thing *can* be alienating. it *can* make people uncomfortable. the editorial is certainly not “sensationalized” and “malicious” — its tone is balanced and dispassionate, and it points out some real problems with the queer awareness month has been organized. that’s 100% fair, in my book.

          on the other hand, spec could have and should have done a better job of acknowledging all the hard work these groups have put into this programming and what it means to them both personally and ideologically. it *was* unfair of spec not to do that. spec also should have done a better job of getting its facts straight. the editorial clearly *was* “inaccurate” and “misinformed” about certain things — though alas for the LGBTQ groups, the correction of these inaccuracies doesn’t undermine the editorial’s arguments.

          basically, i think commenter #1 has it exactly right. so does tom faure: “To criticize a political organization is not the same as a fundamental aversion to the members of that group… We sought to provide a rational, constructive criticism…” he’s right. and, to return to where this comment started, these student groups should “suck it up” — that is, not take an attempt at rational criticism and dialogue as something paramount to a hate crime.

          1. oh gee says:

            @oh gee So many ways to respond.

            * WRONG. It’s actually really offensive. You’re just wrong. Sorry.

            * Suck it up? Not really good enough. ‘Suck it up’ is sort of like saying, “Hey! Be happy with what you have! Stop demanding people actually understand what you’re all about and be content with all those rights you have. Can’t you get married now??”

            * The LGBT/Queer community has dealt with criticism PLENTY in the past. Plenty. Srsly. What makes this particularly ANNOYING is that it comes from the Spec’s editorial board. Thirty years in the future, when people look back to see what happened with QuAM in 2008, they’ll read the spec and that’s the history that’s recorded. Not as an opinion piece, but as a ‘legitimate source’.

            * In regards to publicity: for a discussion on science, bisexuality, politics, whatever, you only need a small group to make the event great. Obviously the more people who come the better, but a discussion can be productive and insightful without 100 people. Meanwhile a DANCE… well a dance sucks if no one shows up. No way around that. Of course genderfuck had to be heavily publicized. Part of the strength of the programming lies in the numbers.

            In summary: I’m going to keep reading bwog as opposed to spec.

            1. that's says:

              @that's a really obnoxious and alienating to begin a response

            2. #9 again says:

              @#9 again * How is the editorial offensive? Please explain to me via specific quotations from the piece. Which portions/passages of it are offensive, and why?

              * “Stop demanding people actually understand what you’re all about and be content with all those rights you have.” That’s not at all what I was attempting to say. Rather, my point — and, I take it, Spec’s point as well — is that if you want people to actually understand and sympathize with what you’re all about, “demanding” it with an imperious tone or going about asking for it in a way that’s alienating to those you’re attempting to communicate with isn’t the best strategy. Not only does it fail to get your message across, but it induces many who otherwise might not care — myself, for instance — to react negatively to you and your group(s). This criticism, I might add, applies to any group that pursues similar tactics — e.g. the hunger strikers, at whom I would level a similar but more vehement argument — and has nothing to do with the particular content of your message.

              * So write letters to the editor. Those get entered into the permanent Spec archives just as much as do Spec editorials. Publish your own articles arguing against the Spec editorial — the internet makes that very easy. Talk calmly with the editorial board about your concerns, and maybe in the future they’ll write an editorial that’s more congenial to your preferences and aims than this one.

              * A fair point. To be a successful party, GenderFuck had to be heavily publicized. In no way does that undermine the editorial’s argument, however. Its point is that GenderFuck did not *have* to be conducted in the manner it was — it *could* have been themed and publicized differently. Spec’s suggestion, I take it, was that it probably would have been a good idea for the party’s organizers to do so, for the reasons stated. That’s not homophobia. It’s an attempt at constructive criticism. It’s just a pity it hasn’t been taken that way.

  • lol says:

    @lol SDS? SDS is back on campus? Are they going to storm the Spectator Office? How does this concern SDS again?

  • My $0.02 says:

    @My $0.02 I’m gay, and I sort of see where the Spec editorial board is coming from. I know many people on the QuAM committee personally, but I did not attend any events that QuAM planned this year (including Genderfuck), partially because of midterms stress. I’ll admit, though… I skipped out on Genderfuck because I didn’t feel comfortable in that sort of environment, and maybe in a way it did alienate me. Then again, I’m not the type to go to First Friday dances either.

    However, I also know how much hard work goes into planning a whole month of programming. Just because I didn’t go to the events doesn’t take away from the fact that other people did and most likely enjoyed them, and for that I commend both the QuAM committee for pulling it off and the people who were able to make it to the events.

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