Attacks threaten sense of community
Column/By REBECCA KAPLAN
Monday night, Oct. 30, I get a call from a friend. A friend who is upset. And a little scared.
There's another bigoted poster in the Infinite Corridor: "SILENCE = death, quiet = silence, therefore shut up GAMIT." My friend wonders: should I now be afraid to wear a GAMIT T-shirt in the halls? Who are these people who refuse to stand up for their opinions, yet poster hostile remarks around the Institute? What would motivate such fear, hatred and ignorance?
How do MIT students decide that it would be productive to spend substantial amounts of free time to make and put up a fake drop poster that can do nothing but hurt people? Would they also think it fair game to anonymously threaten a racial or religious group in public? Do the perpetrators of these acts actually believe that no one they know or like is gay or lesbian or bisexual?
I came to MIT believing the materials about MIT's pride in its diversity. With its mix of students from many different backgrounds, I assumed that bigotry would be less of an issue at MIT as a result.
It's often said that "if you're quiet about it, no one will give you trouble." This statement is used to justify harassment. After all, we are "flaunting ourselves." But I am proud of my identity and refuse to hide it. How many heterosexuals would think twice about holding hands in public. What about the countless posters that depict images of heterosexuality? Why do living group party posters depict members of the opposite sex together? Is it necessary to flaunt this sexuality? What about ads on billboards, television and newspapers that tell you that you can attract the perfect heterosexual mate, if only you purchase their product? What about laws in several states that forbid high school materials from even mentioning homosexuality?
How many people come to MIT under the impression that they have never met a gay or lesbian or bisexual person? Probably many. One of the main reasons that a gay voice is necessary is that without it, it is assumed that we do not exist. When I came to MIT for women's preview weekend, I was talking with a young man at a party. When I mentioned my girlfriend back home, he did not have a problem with it but he told me that "there aren't really any lesbians at MIT."
Many gay, lesbian and bisexual people experience unnecessary stress because they are led to believe that they are the "only one." After all, almost everyone was brought up in a heterosexual environment, with the expectation that they would be heterosexual. The church, the media and the state tend to promote heterosexuality as the only option. Having gay organizations and being out is one way to lessen the negative impact of this brainwashing.
Homosexuals comprise about ten percent of the population. Bisexuals comprise approximately another 20 to 30 percent. So why do so many people accept homophobia? Why do so many people think that they don't know "any of those."
Homophobic acts instigate a vicious cycle of denial. People may be afraid to come out to a friend out of apprehension of their friend's rejection. So people's misconceptions remain unquestioned. This allows people with homophobic attitudes to maintain their beliefs, and to justify to themselves acts of persecution. These acts further instill fear and prevent people from coming out.
The group who put up this poster billed themselves as HAMIT (heteros at MIT). This is not an official MIT group. In the past, when discussing events like BGLAD (bisexual, gay and lesbian awareness days) with people, I have often heard comments like "it's not fair, why is there no HAMIT?" My response: those of you who feel heterosexuals are oppressed, or should have a group, why haven't you founded a HAMIT? All you need do is fill out the necessary Association of Student Activities forms. Then you could even apply for Financial Board funding for posters and events. However, you would also be constrained by the same regulations under which all groups who do not hide behind anonymity must work. Like regulations about what can be said on posters, and accountability.
In Massachusetts, the Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights Bill passed the Senate enactment vote on monday. This means that the bill will probably be signed by Gov. Michael Dukakis within about 10 days. This bill will prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in areas of employment, housing, credit and the provision of services. Through legislation such as this, human rights can be furthered and part of the vicious cycle of fear can be broken.
The American Psychological Association filed a brief in support of gay rights legislation:
The APA believes that the topic of discrimination and human and civil rights against lesbians and gay men should not be controversial. As citizens of this country and as human beings, lesbian and gay individuals deserve all of the rights and privileges enjoyed by other Americans.
MIT policy also addresses issues related to the poster attack. The relevant section of MIT policy reads:
Harassment of any kind is unacceptable at MIT and is in conflict with the policies and interests of the Institute.... Harassment is defined as verbal or physical conduct that has the intent or effect of unreasonably interfering with any individual's or group's educational and/or work performance at MIT or creating an intimidating, offensive or hostile educational and work environment. Harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, national origin or sexual orientation includes harassment of an individual in terms of a stereotyped group characteristic or because of that person's identification with a particular group.
MIT has an atmosphere that should foster the intelligent exchange of ideas. But acts of hatred and fear interfere with rational interchange. All people are welcome to attend any GAMIT event. People are also free to call the contact line (253-5440) and share with us any objections that they may have to GAMIT's posters or events. If that seems too threatening, I am also willing to personally answer questions about my views or about GAMIT.
I truly believe MIT should be a place in which students can celebrate diversity. All people deserve the right to exist without hostility towards their personal identity.
Rebecca Kaplan, a sophomore in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, is financial coordinator of Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals and Friends at MIT (GAMIT).
There's another bigoted poster in the infinite corridor: "SILENCE = death, quiet = silence, therefore shut up GAMIT."
It's often said that "if you're quiet about it, no one will give you trouble." This statement is used to justify harassment. After all, we are "flaunting ourselves." But I am proud of my identity and refuse to hide it.
Homophobic acts instigate a vicious cycle of denial. People may be afraid to come out to a friend out of apprehension of their friend's rejection. So people's misconceptions remain unquestioned.
All people deserve the right to exist without hostility towards their personal identity.