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How Liberals Made AALARM

By Liam T.A. Ford

AFTER more than six months of waiting for the right moment, the Association Against Learning in the Absence of Religion and Morality (AALARM) has plastered the campus with cardboard cut-outs of blue squares and posters promoting "traditional values." Despite AALARM's disingenuous protestations to the contrary, most students immediately figured out that blue squares are a reaction against pink triangles, a ubiquitous gay-activist symbol that means a lot of things to a lot of people.

Almost immediately, the storm of protest began. One officer of the Bisexual, Gay and Lesbian Students Association (BGLSA) equated the blue square with the Nazi swastika as a symbol of violence against gays. Considering the origins of the pink triangle symbol in the Nazi extermination camps, the obvious question is, "Why would AALARM do such a thing?"

They did it in part because conservatives at Harvard are a persecuted lot. A Harvard conservative who mentions having an anti-abortion stance or being attached to the free market quickly gets classified with Ghengis Khan and Attila the Hun. Mentioning that you have some moral qualms about homosexuality will draw the wrath of most of College. The isolation and marginalization of Harvard conservatives partly explains why AALARM proclaimed "traditional values" in such a reactionary way.

SOPHOMORE year I became involved in attempting to reinvigorate the Conservative Club along tolerant, reasonable lines. But while I struggled to find acceptance and a way to express my views without becoming a pariah, the Mather Incident occurred, and political discourse on campus has not been the same since.

In February, 1989, a gay student at a dance in Mather House approached the 17-year-old friend of a Mather resident and allegedly came on to him and touched him. (The gay student says he twice asked the younger man to dance, nothing more.) The younger man told his friends about the incident, and the friends then allegedly assaulted the gay man, shoving him and threatening him with physical harm.

The Crimson reported the assault, which was not yet known to be connected to the earlier events. Charging homophobia, the BGLSA staged a "kiss-in" in the Mather dining hall, intended to shock "homophobes" into confronting their feelings about homosexuality.

Soon, foot-tall pink triangles appeared in many Mather windows. Blue squares materialized in several others, and an ambiguous symbol was born.

AALARM interprets the blue square as a symbol of traditional family values, Christian morals and a traditional sense of community. Nowhere on the original press release issued by the association is homosexuality mentioned. Members say AALARM is "not anti-homosexual," but "pro-heterosexual," whatever that means.

But regardless of what AALARM advertises, the blue square is opposed in some way to the pink triangle because of its origin in the wake of the Mather Incident. Harvard Republican Club president Sumner E. Anderson '92, the first person to propose distributing blue-square badges, says he intended them as an anti-gay message.

But beyond that, what exactly does wearing a blue square mean? Does it, in fact, promote violence against homosexuals, as many BGLSA members undoubtedly think? Can AALARM and such groups as the Queer Nation coexist? The answers to these questions are. I believe, a qualified no and a qualified yes.

By setting up the blue square as a symbol of a traditional view of sexual morality, AALARM has caught itself in a rhetorical quagmire, partly because of the ambiguity of the pink triangle's significance. Homosexuals were forced to wear pink triangles as an identifying mark in Nazi death camps, and the gay rights movement adopted the pink triangle as a symbol they say opposes violence against gays.

As part of the symbol of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT-UP) and other activist organizations, however, it has taken on many other meanings. At Harvard, it is taken to mean the complete acceptance of gays, regardless of one's own moral beliefs. That's what campus gay groups demand, and that's what the ruling ideology at Harvard promulgates.

The BGLSA demands not just tolerance, but acceptance. One of their posters equate a biblical, "natural law" critique of homosexuality with "biblical" rationalizations of racism, implying that anyone who disapproves of their lifestyles is a pin-headed fundamentalist bigot. No matter that not even the most conservative theologian would ever use a biblical argument against mixed-race marriages. No matter that some very rational people discern a distinction between race and sexual orientation.

The message to conservatives: We reject your way of thinking. We demand that you say nothing against us. If you do, we (and the Politically Correct ideological machine that backs our agenda) will make you a pariah.

TOLERATION of others does not entail acceptance of their lifestyles or even the willingness to mingle with them socially. Toleration only requires that we accept others as human beings entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

By decrying even moderate conservatives as fascists and making no place in their world view for us--by demanding that we accept rather than tolerate homosexuals--BGLSA, Queer Nation and their allies have helped make co-existence well-nigh impossible. This weekend, ACT-UP displayed a poster which depicted Pope John Paul II and a condom and asked, "which is a dick and which is a condom?" This is blatantly offensive and deliberately inflammatory. Imagine the outcry if AALARM stooped to such a level.

Asking that conservatives unequivocally accept homosexuality while refusing to grant the most basic civilities in return is rank hypocrisy. In such an atmosphere, is it any wonder that conservatives resort to reactionary provocation? The blue square campaign is about the only way for conservatives to shake the campus out of a complacency that stifles criticism of gay activism.

So long as liberals refuse to listen to a muted, reasonable conservative voice, stunts such as AALARM's will surely follow. And in the meantime, the chasm opens, and we begin to view each other not as human beings, but as demonized enemies.

For those who attempt to tolerate opposing views, this is a difficult time to be a Harvard student. Demonizing one's opponents feeds into an even greater isolation and forces groups to take drastic action to be heard at all.

Those conservatives or liberals who fraternize with the enemy are progressively more uncomfortable having friends who disagree with their other friends. Conservatives sometimes take too literally Jesus' saying, "He who is not for me is against me." Liberals go equally overboard applying the 1960s radical slogan, "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem."

How are we to carry on any constructive discourse when everyone has decided from the outset that the other side can say nothing worth listening to?

Gay-bashing and violence against gays should have no place in a true conservative's heart--and AALARM has been derelict in making this point clear. Similarly, campus gay groups should extend the same tolerance and charity to conservatives that they themselves demand.

Harvard is a lonely place for conservatives, and the more liberals attempt to silence us, or exclude us from the campus debate by name-calling and diabolization, the more shrill will our rhetoric have to become.

And the less hospitable Harvard will be to productive discourse.

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