Letter to the Editor: LGBTQ+ student community

Elliott Emadian

On March 3rd, 2016, the residents of the Sustainability House awoke to find neon staining the windows of our home. At 3:30am, one resident had come home to find, wet and dripping in pink, words of confused and varying meaning including one pane displaying a derogatory term for a gay man followed by her RA’s name. In the hours that followed, the Honor system took over, and the entire campus reacted.

I believe that the unrelenting support from the Washington and Lee community that confronted the deplorable act of March 3rd is evidence of a changing tide on our campus. It has been quite public recently that being diverse here at W&L is a challenge. Any minority group finds themselves marginalized from time to time in the wonderful traditions of our university. The LGBTQ+ community is no exception. In an environment that is frequently dominated by old ways of thinking, which has only recently shifted towards acceptance of its gay members, there is a lot of carried over, unintentional suppression of the LGBTQ+ community. In my time at W&L, I have seen that begin to change, but there is much work left to be done.

A major problem for many LGBTQ+ students is the idea that revealing their status as a member of the community would affect their ability to feel like a normal student on campus. Whether this effect would be felt from a small faction of anti-LGBTQ+ students, the result is the same. A significant portion of LGBTQ+ students feels unsafe ‘coming out’ generally to the campus population. Why, though, do they feel this way? Many students consider themselves to be allies, and even more, when asked, would fervently express that they have no problem with anyone who is different from themselves. Clearly, as is evidenced by the massive showing of support at the banner-signing event Thursday night, there is a vast population of students, faculty, and staff who feel that way.

The issue, though, is that it took an actual hate crime for a large group of those people to stand out and express their support of the LGBTQ+ community on our campus. I spoke with two brothers of the fraternity to which the vandal previously belonged. I first thanked them for their phenomenal response to the event. We then discussed the climate that could have incited such an event. We agreed that we as a campus have mostly moved from a climate of intolerance to one of tolerance; however, a climate of tolerance is a far cry from a climate of support. While I in no way believe that every single person who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ+ community has the desire to be ‘out’ on campus, I do believe that those who do still feel marginalized by tolerance. We crawl out once for pride week and once for the Equality Gala, and otherwise, we stay within our confidential groups, discreet dating applications, or in our Safe Spaces.

The gentlemen from the fraternity and I continued to talk. How then, do we take the atrocity of March 3rd and bring attention to the issues of the LGBTQ+ community on our campus? As I alluded to on Thursday night, I believe in the power of active voices. The biggest difference between tolerance and support is the distinction between a passive action and an active one.

The man who vandalized the Sustainability House and the vehicles in the Davidson Park parking lot has expressed that he harbored no homophobic intentions in his actions. He claims that the slur which he spray painted across the doors of our home is an endearing one in one of his circles of friends. While I was moved by his attempt at apology, I am frustrated that he believes this somehow mitigates his actions. The very fact that a group of straight individuals uses a gay slur as a “term of endearment” speaks in some way to the mechanisms by which we can begin to move towards a supportive community. Not three nights later, sitting on Traveller, I heard yet another gay slur slipping out of the mouth of a student. He again, harbored no ill intentions, but as I waited for anyone to speak up, I was disappointed to find that no one did. When we hear and see things that we know are wrong, we cannot neglect to act.

Our namesake General Robert E Lee once said, “We must expect reverses, even defeats. They are sent to teach us wisdom and prudence, to call forth greater energies, and to prevent our falling into greater disasters.” I encourage members of the student body to funnel the outrage and concern with which they met the events of this week into a focused change. I meant what I said about my love for this University, and I truly believe that we attend one of the few Universities that can truly make change happen, but it takes intent. Change takes bravery. Change requires that we confront people we know and love with new perspectives on right and wrong, but change is important if we are to remain not unmindful of the future.