BGLTSA Debates New Name

E-mail discussion erupts over student organization name change


A possible name change for the Harvard-Radcliffe Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, and Supporters Alliance has sparked a fierce debate within the organization over the new name’s use of the word “queer.”

The BLGTSA-open e-mail list exploded with passionate responses after a message Tuesday afternoon announcing the proposed renaming to the “College Queer Students and Allies.” Over 50 e-mails were sent during a single 24-hour period. [SEE CORRECTION BELOW]

“I understand that Queer is a word that people have reclaimed for the community (or are in the process of reclaiming),” wrote Barry A. Shafrin ’09 Tuesday night in the first of many e-mail responses to the announcement. “But to me it still carries connotations of oddity or otherness.”

BGLTSA is considering a name change both for practical and inclusive reasons, according to BGLTSA co-chair Marco Chan ’11.

He said the long name is difficult to understand or remember and limits the scope of the organization to those sexualities explicitly named in the organization title.

“Beyond the practicality of it, we’re striving for better inclusion,” he said. “When we lift out the letters, that inherently only gives you five categories to be in. You’re either the B, the G, the L, the T, or the S.”

Rachel E. Flynn ’09 said she supports the name change but does not believe the changed name would alter participation in BGLTSA.

“I think people who are going to be attracted to this organization are going to utilize it regardless of the name,” she said. “They could call it close to absolutely anything and the same types of individuals will be attracted to participating.”

As the debate intensified, the e-mail discussion began to reveal the divisions within BGLTSA. Some members argued that the organization focuses too much on radical homosexual men, leaving out more marginalized sexualities.

Members also debated whether BGLTSA’s primary purpose was social or political.

“And I, for one, completely antagonize the notion that such a group avoid making political power its main agenda,” Kameron A. Collins ’09 wrote in an e-mail to BGLTSA-open. “If trying to fight for cultural capital isn’t political, I don’t know what is.”

Despite the passion of the debate and the divisions it revealed, Chan, Collins, Flynn, and Shafrin all said they thought the discussion was a positive step for BGLTSA.

“Having it be controversial and having discussion isn’t an inherently negative thing,” Chan said. “If anything, it’s brought up a lot of feelings in the community that don’t normally get said.”

Even Shafrin, the intiatior of the e-mail movement against the new name, lauded the BGLTSA board for encouraging the debate.

“Even though I disagree with what direction they seem to be moving in, I want to applaud them for the discussion,” Shafrin said.

—Staff writer Danielle Kolin can be reached at


Due to an editing error, the Feb. 27 news article "BGLTSA Debates New Name" incorrectly stated that the proposed new name for the organization would be the “College Queer Students and Allies.” In fact, it would be the "Harvard College Queer Student and Allies." The article also incorrectly referred to the organization by the acronym BLGTSA on one instance. The correct acronym is BGLTSA.