A letter to the editor arguing that the College needs to promote sexual morality has sparked student outrage—eliciting a postering campaign, heated e-mail discussions and two resignations from the Harvard Salient.
Gladden J. Pappin ’04, who is the editor of the Salient, wrote the letter appearing in Monday’s edition of The Crimson. The piece responded to a Crimson staff editorial criticizing a 1920 secret court of Harvard administrators that investigated homosexual activity at the University, resulting in the dismissal of seven undergraduates.
Pappin argued the College should continue to discipline students for certain sexual behaviors.
“Such punishments would apply to heterosexuals, of course, but even more so to homosexuals, whose activities are not merely immoral but perverted and unnatural,” Pappin wrote.
The letter has particularly drawn criticism from those who found Pappin’s statements homophobic.
Pappin said he expected a firestorm when he wrote the letter.
“I knew many on Harvard’s campus would react negatively, though I did not expect the reaction to be quite so pronounced,” he wrote in an e-mail.
He also denied that his letter was homophobic, writing “I suggested moral standards that applied both to heterosexuals and homosexuals.”
The Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgendered and Supporters Alliance (BGLTSA) encouraged those offended by the letter to attend a meeting yesterday afternoon to plan a unified response.
“There was a diversity of opinions about how to react,” said BGLTSA Co-President Michael B. Murphy ’04. “The letter represents an extreme and limited viewpoint. But it also reminds us that homophobia and discrimination operate in more subtle ways as well.”
In the end, the group decided on a postering campaign beginning today that would address homophobia on campus without directly referring to Pappin’s letter.
Those present at the meeting decided that BGLTSA should stress the campaign is not a specific rebuttal of the letter, but rather a chance to make gay students feel supported.
“The suggestion that we need to strike back is understandable to an attack that some people took very personally,” said BGLTSA Publicity Chair Marcel A. Q. LaFlamme ’04. “But I don’t think that it would be productive to react in kind to extremist sentiments.”
In the next few days, BGLTSA also plans to distribute small signs at dining halls, reading “LGBTQ Safe Space” that students can put on their doors.
Members yesterday brainstormed ideas for after winter break, including House-based events and a “speak-out” about homophobia on campus. They hope to engage other gay student groups in their effort.
In addition to the organized efforts to discuss Pappin’s letter, its publication immediately sparked discussion—some of which reached a fevered pitch—on House e-mail lists.
In addition to lists that are often home to heated political discussions—such as the Eliot list—those like Lowell that are often forums for nothing more than upcoming concert announcements were inundated by posts.
In Quincy House, with which Pappin is affiliated, the new student liaisons of the Race, Culture and Diversity Initiative posted to the House e-mail list offering support for those who wanted to discuss the letter.
“We would like to offer our time to anyone needing to discuss the original article, or the issues of intolerance and homophobia raised in the recent response,” liaisons Catherine A. Honeyman ’04, Michael T. O’Neill ’03 and Claire S. Sulmers ’03 wrote.
The maelstrom hit even closer to home when two of Pappin’s roommates, Travis G. Good ’04 and Paul A. Fili ’04, resigned their positions on the Salient staff this week.
Good, who is also a Crimson editor, confirmed that his resignation was due to the letter but would offer no further comment.
Salient leaders said they were surprised by the reaction and, along with Pappin, said that the letter was in no way affiliated with their magazine.
“It would be wrong to judge the Salient or take actions in regard to the Salient baed on that letter,” said Salient Managing Editor Claire V. McCusker ’04.
—Staff writer Sarah M. Seltzer can be reached email@example.com.