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Speaker Discusses Homophobia Issues

By Daniel C. Stevenson
Associate News Editor

"Homophobia is a devastating and insidious form of oppression," said author and gay activist Warren J. Blumenfield at a talk last night in Room 10-250.

"Homophobia, as well as many forms of oppression, is pervasive throughout the entire society, and because of that it is not our fault we must accept responsibility for it within ourselves," Blumenfield said.

Blumenfield's talk, called Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price, was sponsored by Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, and Friends at MIT, the Interfraternity Council, and Lambda Chi Alpha as part of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian Awareness Days.

Blumenfield discussed his personal struggle with homophobia and presented several ways to combat homophobia in the form of a "homowork" assignment (See "15 Ways to Combat Homophobia," page 16).

"I hope that the people that are here have a greater understanding of the issues of homophobia in our society and take those ideas back to their living groups," said Neal H. Dorow, assistant dean and adviser for fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups.

Dorow said that he was pleased by the broad response of the groups in the Interfraternity Council and he "was excited that an honest, eye-opening discussion took place."

The talk satisfied part of the sanction imposed against LCA after several members spray painted a derogatory slogan about "queers" on the sidewalk in front of the Tau Epsilon Phi fraternity house last fall.

Homophobia as fear and hatred

To introduce the audience to homophobia, Blumenfield played several messages he had received on his answering machine. "AIDS is a great disease," one caller said, because it weeds out the homosexuals. Other callers shouted epithets at Blumenfield and threatened violence against him.

Blumenfield played the tape, he said, to show "what it's like for some of us who are out in public."

Homophobia is "the fear and hatred of those who love and sexually desire those of the same sex," Blumenfield said, including "prejudice, discrimination, harassment, and acts of violence brought on by that fear and hatred."

Blumenfield had several members of the audience act out a scenario in which a gay student discloses his sexual orientation to his family, with his lover present.

He asked the audience to "be conscious of what you're feeling during this experience," and to "see how [homophobia] not only affects the person coming out and his lover, but how it affects the entire family."

Brian S. Gladstein '96 played a conservative and disbelieving father, who insisted it was all a joke, and that "no son of mine" would be gay. The son, Jeffrey A. Guertin '96, said that it was nervewracking to confront his parents.

While some might point to homosexuality as the cause of the family's conflict, Blumenfield said, "it is homophobia that interrupts the family, it is homophobia that we need to guard against so that this kind of scenario doesn't happen."

Shock therapy posters debated

Following Blumenfield's presentation, the audience asked Blumenfield and members of GAMIT about homophobia-related issues.

IFC President Prashant B. Doshi '94 began a discussion about the gay awareness posters put up by GAMIT. "Why the shock therapy?" he asked, referring to several GAMIT posters including one depicting partially nude men holding up condoms.

"One of the reasons why it's so difficult for people to accept flagrant displays of homosexual behavior is they have become enured to vagrant displays of heterosexual behavior," said Travis R. Merritt, dean for undergraduate academic affairs.

Blumenfield said that the posters could be a "form of desensitization" to bombard people with images of homosexual lifestyles, and might also result from a sense of anger with a community trying to keep homosexuals back.

Another audience member said that "heterosexuals don't need to defend their actions" but homosexuals do, including the extreme cases.

"Instead of looking at each other as GAMIT members and fraternity members" the students should see themselves as members of the same group who have differences, Doshi said.

Doshi invited the leaders of GAMIT to a forum of student leaders to discuss homophobia on Mar. 31.