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Editorial Was Violent



To the Editors of The Crimson:

Editorials, it seems, are the violence we do to words. Fabricating an argument, we pick apart and invert language on itself; and we portray it, politically, to our advantage in the ethical warfare for public opinion.

A staff editorial by The Harvard Crimson ("Justified, but Insensitive," Feb. 8) reminded me of this destructive editorializing act--reminding me that, as a gay man, I had better remember my assigned rank and file on the battlefield of newsprint because my social position was tenuous and dependent, and therefore subject to attack.

By now we are all familiar with the events in the men's public bathroom in the Science Center basement. The police have instituted a program of arrests, the legality of which is being challenged.

According to a victim who related the actions to us, the program consisted of a plainclothes policeman participating in the sexual and semi-sexual interplay in the bathroom for a period of time. He then leaves, only to return with his badge, arresting everyone who had been loitering (and not necessarily participating in the sexual conduct). We also know that the men have been charged with "open and gross lewdness"--a felony, I am told by Kevin Cathcart, the co-director of Gay Lesbian Advocates and Defenders of Boston.

While these events are clear, it appears that the letter commenting on them submitted by Morris Rattner and me does not lend itself to such clear reading. Or so it would seem by the way in which the Crimson staff editorial misread it.

Our letter had two purposes. The first was to inform the Harvard community of the excessive violence used in the police actions and to suggest that there were more humane ways of enforcing its law. The second intent was to link their violence to a greater, more pervasive ill: the omnipresent homophobia infecting so much of our culture.

By opposing the overly harsh tactics used by the police and the inane (or perhaps unthinking) collaborative effort of The Crimson in publishing the names of seven of those arrested, I am scolded by the editors of this revered daily for proposing "a blanket defense of anonymous sex in public places." We proposed no such thing.

Then your editorial reminds me that by speaking out, my action "only reinforces the vicious stereotype of homosexuals as depraved." It seems we get too big for our breeches when we gays name a violence to which we have historically been subjected (not the violence of the arrest but the homophobia at its root), and that, more suitable and advantageous to our cause would be silence. Or perhaps we should have voiced our opinions apologetically. Would this dissociate the Harvard gay community far enough from Those Men in the Bathroom to leave our cause intact?

As it stands, you have chosen to attack our defense of the dignity of gay people and converted it into a half-baked scheme of advocacy of bathroom sex. Your editorial closes by calling bathroom sex "a practice very few people can defend." It effectively deploys society's fear and loathing of public sex (a fear to which I, too, must admit) with paternalistic censure and issues a warning to gays: keep your mouths shut or we won't give you your "much-deserved" rights.

When a public forum like the editorial page of a somewhat enlightened newspaper such as The Crimson becomes the site for disciplining the already marginal voices of campus gays and proscribing for them more acceptable mores (read here also the word "Victorian," or even "Catholic") in place of some invented stock of immorality they have conferred upon us, one can only wonder about its fairness and question the objectivity of its "official positions."

The Crimson's coverage of the gay community during this event has consistently focused on our ire but has at no point pursued the potentially more constructive and assuredly more professional path of investigating what our proposed alternatives would be. In your editorial you mention the alternatives that we mentioned as an aside and castigate us for their ridiculous chances of success.

That letter was never intended as a comprehensive list of alternative enforcement procedures to curb sex in the bathroom; the suggestions were in parentheses. We do have real proposals for resolving the issue and do not deserve to have them mischaracterized in the form of ludicrous suggestions such as putting up a sign simply saying "No Sex."

Your poor efforts at covering the more sensitive aspects of the case--printing names and then carelessly commenting on the letter--gives me pause to shudder.

Our immediate concern in the first letter was for people's lives--the lives of those arrested. Our present concern is for our own lives, that is, for our freedom to speak out against violence arrayed against us, to speak without having mud thrown at us and facing threats of abandonment from those professing to be allies. (You say, after all, that our equality is "much-deserved.")

Our letter pointed out the pervasiveness of homophobia and names an excessive and unnecessary violence. Our letter spoke to the issue of the arrested persons in the bathroom and at no point attempted to justify people having sex in public places. On the latter issue, we do not pass judgment for or against. I believe I reflect the opinion of the gay community in expressing our divided and conflicting views on this issue.

Your crude accusations and failure to even ask about and report on any constructive suggestions we might have seems to perpetuate some perverted Victorian ethic. Together with your reminder that we "damage [our] efforts to win much-deserved support," I am left wondering how you suggest we take on this issue.

Perhaps a refurbished closet with all the accoutrements that straights would have--a separate-but-equal morality that dare not publicly speak its name.

Our words protesting a violence against our community might alienate some none-too-bright readers. But any quasi-controversial result we may encounter is immeasurably better than the alternative you seem to naively suggest: our deaths at the hand of the editorial sword. Jarrett T. Barrios '90   Co-chair, Harvard-Radcliffe Bisexual Gay   Lesbian Students Association

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