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A HOUSE DIVIDED

HOW 56 PAGES UNLEASHED A FLOOD OF WORDS

By Brian D. Ellison

So began the 56-page edition of Peninsula that appeared last week, sparking a debate about the sensitive issue of homosexuality and setting into motion some events that few could have predicted.

The dust finally began to settle in the last few days. But not before an act of vandalism rocked the community, several prominent University figure identified themselves as gay and free speech emerged as an important related issue.

Peninsula, the conservative journal that debuted last year, has consistently tackled what council member Roger J. Landry '92 called "social conservative issues." The edition focusing on homosexuality did not mark the magazine's first venture into a controversial topic.

Although Landry said that he has received much positive feedback, the magazine was the subject of harsh criticism from gays, lesbians and their supporters.

"We did accuse them of spreading misinformation, and it was a lot of misinformation that was potentially damaging," said Sandra Cavazos '92, co-chair of the Bisexual, Gay and Lesbian Students Assocation (BGLSA).

Cavazos's group responded to the issue in a number of ways, staging several "eat-ins" and a rally in the Yard last Friday that drew more than 200 people.

Landry called Cavazos's claim that Peninsula was spreading "misinformation" was "utterly untrue."

"I think that is a quintessential example of the types of misinformation, not that conservatives have put forth, but that which those who support the pro-homosexual ideology have put forth," Landry said.

But gay student leaders were not the only ones to object to the magazine. And "misinformation" was not the only charge against it.

Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III, who spoke last Friday at the BGLSA rally, blamed Peninsula for "rough treatment of a sensitive issue," and called for an end to "hate speech of any kind."

Members of Peninsula's council, and even critics of the magazine, said Epps added an unfair twist to the debate.

"Calling it hate speech,' I think, was way out of line," Landry said of Epps's remarks.

And in a letter that dealt specifically with the graffiti incident, President Neil L. Rudenstine also defended Peninsula's right to publish.

"Actions that are clearly in the realm of freedom of expression and speech...must be protected, even if they are offensive to some members of the community," the letter stated.

Peninsula editors denied from the start that their magazine constituted gay-bashing or prejudice. Rather, they said they were presenting the facts about homosexuality--with the intention of helping the gay community.

Among the most controversial elements in the magazine was a section which listed groups "dedicated to helping homosexuals who wish to change their lifestyle."

"The people who experience same-sex sexual attraction have not been getting the help that they need," Peninsula Council member Matthew J. McDonald '92 said, explaining the list. "We wanted to get our message out to them."

But the list, which was an essential element of the magazine's message, was among the most strongly criticized.

"That's very, very damaging to people," Cavazos said.

The word "faggot" did not appear in the issue of Peninsula. But in an unrelated incident, it was scrawled on the door of a Lowell House student. Because it appeared on the same day the magazine was distributed, the graffiti could only exacerbate what promised to be a campus-wide controversy.

In addition to leaving the slur, the vandal tore down two postcards that were hanging on the door. One read "closets are for clothes, not for people." The other depicted two male dancers.

All sides in the just-beginning debate denounced the action. Still, it served as further fuel for demonstrations throughout the week.

In his letter, Rudenstine lashed out at the anti-gay graffiti and its perpetrator, who has not yet been identified.

"Actions that are intimidating and are directed at specific individuals are repugnant and intolerable," Rudenstine wrote.

The president wrote that such incidents "are not only a violation of University regulations, they are cowardly and contemptible."

The staff of Peninsula anticipated some criticism of its magazine. But Plummer Professor of Christian Morals Peter J. Gomes provided an unexpected twist in BGLSA's Friday rally.

The Rev. Gomes, who presides over Memorial Church, told the crowd at the rally that he was gay, something he had never said publicly. Rally participants reacted with cheers.

"I'm positive that their whole argument...has been completely wiped out, not only by Rev. Gomes but by others who spoke at the rally," Cavazos said this week.

Women's Studies Department Chair Barbara Johnson also announced at the rally that she is a lesbian. Like Gomes, Johnson had never publicly said she is gay.

Explaining the motivation behind his speech, Gomes said that the Peninsula issue called for more than a standard response about diversity.

"I felt the climate had been so poisoned...that the strongest possible measures were called for," Gomes said in an interview this week. "I felt the time had come."

Gomes said he hasn't regretted his decision to come out.

"My colleagues have been astonishingly supportive," he said. "People have taken trouble to write me notes--supportive and powerful notes." Gomes said that of the 15 to 20 written responses he has received, all but one or two are positive.

At the rally, Johnson applauded the show of support that she and Gomes received from students.

"As one of numerous lesbian faculty members at Harvard, I needed to feel your strength," Johnson said at the rally. "We do exist, we do love, and we are strong."

But not all students reacted favorably to Gomes's statement. In a letter to The Crimson last week, former Republican Club President Sumner E. Anderson '92 called for Gomes's resignation from Memorial Church.

"I have great respect for Gomes's intellectual capabilities and his personal integrity," Anderson wrote, "but unless he openly admits homosexual behavior to be sinful, I feel compelled to call for his immediate resignation."

Anderson's letter to the editor was one of many that flooded campus publications since Peninsula was published, a sign that the issues that have emerged in the last several weeks remain in the forefront of campus debate.

Indeed, according to key players in the controversy, discussion is bound to continue.

Cavazos said that BGLSA, for its part, will try to shift the discussion onto its own terms, highlighting issues such as gays visibility and the act of coming out.

Cavazos added that BGLSA will launch a new publication sometime in January or February to provide an additional outlet for the organization.

Gomes also said he believes the issue will linger. "I suspect, despite our short attention span, it will be discussed for quite some time," he said.

Landry of Peninsula said he believes that one of the long-term effects will be greater scrutiny of BGLSA members' claims about homosexuality. "The university is going to be a little more skeptical of the things they say," he said.

Landry said that he hopes the issues raised will result not only in continued discussion, but in a changed way of thinking for many students.

"Several people have come up and said they've been moved and they'll never think the same way about homosexuality again," Landry said.

In the end, activists on both sides--the editors of Peninsula and gay and lesbian leaders--claimed victory this week, saying that their views will prevail.

Cavazos said that the magazine and the subsequent campus debate have been a boon for gays at Harvard.

"I can think of few other incidents that have really brought the community together," Cavazos said. "This seems to really have galvanized the community."

Landry, on the other hand, said that although the issue may have encouraged unity among gays, the net result will be negative for their cause.

Gays have been "unified in fear rather than unified in a sense of celebration," Landry said.

"People will be discussing and actually believing what we put in that issue," he said.

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