Discomfort and Prejudice at a Charity Event
Guest Column Terrance D. Harmon
Two weeks ago at Alpha Tau Omega's bachelor and bachelorette action a disturbing event that took place. I wrote a letter afterward and submitted it to The Tech, but pulled it when Ibegan mediation with ATO. I have gone through two meetings with representatives of ATO requesting a public apology for what happened. We agreed that ATO will print a public apology and I would present my viewpoint as well. At this point, I am unsure whether their apology will address my grievances presented at the meetings. It is my hope that this column will present my case and establish a precedent of rebutting discrimination of all types.
At the bachelor and bachelorette action, I was asked to play a practical joke on the women's waterpolo coach who was to be auctioned off. The plan was to dress in drag and to buy the coach for a supposed night on the town. They would pay for my bid and I would only have to make sure I was the highest bid. Since I was cross-dressing that night for several parties, I accepted and played the joke on the unsuspecting coach.
Walking into Lobdell, I was looked at and laughed at. This was to be expected and gave me a bit of a rush. I was doing what many of them considered taboo. My appearance resembled a man dressed up in woman's clothing. My black dress, pantyhose, and jacket fit tightly over my male frame. My face was beautified by many cosmetics and a bit of glitter. And I had a huge puffy-haired wig that brought me much attention later that night.
In this slightly uncomfortable position, I managed to adjust to my situation and waited to buy the coach. The coach was announced and the bidding started at $20. I raised my blue program to bid on the coach. This brought me more attention, the crowds excitement was voiced by a cacophony of gasps, laughs, snickers, and yells.
The auctioneer accepted my bids for the first few rounds. Then as the bidding was at the 140 dollar mark, an announcement was made saying that the bidder must be of the opposite sex of the bachelor. I was embarrassed by this announcement and sat for a few minutes until a member of the waterpolo team urged me to bid again despite the announcement. I did. The auctioneer wanted to take my bid which would have raised the price of the waterpolo coach from 160 to 170 dollars. The auctioneer looked back for help in making his decision whether to accept my bid. The answer was no. Someone else bought the coach. As I scurried out of the auction, the team thanked me for my efforts and bid me farewell. But I was not happy.
The actions and mannerisms of the auctioneer told me that he had no idea of the opposite gender policy of the auction. In my estimation, the auctioneer thought the event was to raise money for charity, not to find the perfect date for the contestants. No publication for the event lists this same gender rule. Earlier that evening, several people witnessed a woman bidding on another woman and did nothing to modify the rules. The rule was created because I made them uncomfortable. But, what they did made me feel embarrassed and wronged.
As a gay man, I have had to fight discrimination on several fronts, and it is not an easy life to live. I will never give up in my search to find love and acceptance in a society where being gay is not viewed as something to be loved or accepted. And for others at that auction fighting similar battles in their lives, what did such an action say to them? It said that ATO does not like or accept anyone like me: a man who likes men. And what about the vast majority of those on campus with same sex feelings who are not out of the closet. These people have same sex feelings, but do not want to tell anyone because of actions like this. There are many other people who face similar struggles, whether they are straight, gay, lesbian, or bisexual.
I think it is about time that ATO and others who may think like them woke up. MIT is a place where everyone should be accepted and treated with respect. Once we are admitted into the Institute we are a part of a collective that should not be fractured and divided by discrimination, and by policy we will not stand for those who do. MIT's nondiscrimination policy makes this clear:
"The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is committed to the principle of equal opportunity in education and employment. The Institute does not discriminate against individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, religion, disability, age, veteran status, ancestry, or national or ethnic origin in the administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, employment policies, scholarship and loan programs, and other Institute administered programs and activities, but may favor U.S. citizens or residents in admissions and financial aid."
I would hope that I am wrong in accusing the entire MIT chapter of Alpha Tau Omega of being ignorant or prejudiced. I would hope that it was only one or a few members who made the decision without much forethought and without thinking their decision through. But, if so or if not, I believe I am owed a public apology. Maybe, such an apology will open up some eyes and make people who are struggling with their sexuality feel a bit better about their predicament at MIT.
I also hope that the MIT community will wake up and see discrimination that occurs and rage against it. We have made much progress, but there is still more to be done to make MIT a place where discrimination is rare. Apathy will cause more misery in the long run. I make my first step to end my apathy with this column. When will you make yours?
Terrance D. Harmon is a member of the Class of 1999.