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Homophobia at Harvard

By Saieed Hasnoo

Harvard is not the bastion of absolute acceptance that I had once hoped it would be.

My experiences have reshaped my conception of the College from one of impregnable safety to one marred by insidious homophobia.

It was Friday night and my friend and I were playing Texas Hold’em in the Cabot common room. Two other juniors with whom we had played in the past had joined us, and we were casually discussing matters of no particular importance, focusing more on the cards than on the small talk. An hour and a half into the game, a new student joins us who strikes me as an amiable guy. It must have been hand #150. Four players in the pot, and the flop comes up: Queen, 3, 10. The new player bets aggressively. Two of us fold, and two remain in the hand. Following no continuation bets, the remaining two cards are a Jack and then a 5. The players reveal their hands. The new student wins with a pair of 3’s.

“Damn, I folded a Queen on the flop!” laments one of the senior members of our troupe.

“What a faggot move!” scolds the new player. My friend and I exchange uncomfortable glances—we astonishingly yet tacitly acknowledge to each other what had just happened. In case we hadn’t heard him the first time, he repeats, “You’re a real faggot for doing that.” My friend and I were appalled at his bigotry-laden antagonism—I couldn’t let his insensibility go unacknowledged. After embarrassingly beating him one-on-one in the very next hand with trip 10’s, I finally affirmed, “You probably shouldn’t have called him that.” He was taken aback and recanted, “Oh, I’m sorry if someone here is gay.” That was his worst bluff of the night.

At Harvard, we pride ourselves on being an institution that supports openness and diversity. As with the former ban on ROTC involvement on campus, our administration contends that discrimination or prejudice against any individual on the basis sexual orientation is intolerable and will be met with harsh repercussion. Bolstering this sentiment, student groups vigorously mobilize against instances of LGBT exclusion in Cambridge and fight actively against models of hatred. “LGBTQ Safe Space” signs adorn the doors of our proctors, professors, and fellow students. The residential community welcomes freshmen with a variety of residential specialty proctors whose purpose is to provide support for LGBT students. In short, we are the paragon of acceptance—at least in theory.

However, this dogma of universal tolerance on campus is not one shared by all in our community. The slur “faggot”—a term that encapsulates a vicious and ongoing history spewed with violence, oppression, and denigration against the LGBT population—has no place at Harvard. A student body that promotes the respect and acceptance of thy fellow classmates should never let such a word be used so flippantly. If everyone at Harvard were as educated and committed to diversity as we would hope, all students would understand the gravity of such a term. With a troubling national trend of gay suicides and bullying, all students of Harvard should be conscious of our obligation to reject anti-gay slurs. Unfortunately, however, my witness of homophobia extends beyond a single poker game.

Several months ago, as a late night party was raging in the upper floors of Pforzheimer House, a gay male friend and I were waiting for the Quad shuttle from Currier. Suddenly, a partygoer stuck his head from the window and yelled down at us: “Faggots!” in a menacing voice so loud that it was heard throughout the quadrangle. We weren’t kissing, holding hands, or even standing next to each other, but this individual chose to affirm his deep-seated fear of queerness by attempting to torment two fellow students.

It is deeply unsettling to conceive that a student at the hallowed halls of Harvard would cowardly accost others under the pretense of their homosexuality. Admittedly, if this had occurred at my public middle school in Queens, New York, I would not have been even mildly surprised. “Faggot” was a word that was commonplace among these immature students. When witnessing such puerile hatred at a “progressive” institution such at Harvard, however, it forces me to question the reality of our professed universal tolerance. It is disconcerting to consider that some individuals have remained regressed in a juvenile state wherein phrases such as “faggot” and “that’s so gay” are commonplace in their language. Any individual who viciously demeans two others with no other motive than belligerent prejudice does not deserve to call himself a “Harvard man.”

Students find solace and self-esteem in knowing that U.S. News consistently ranks Harvard as the “best” college in the United States; we are widely recognized as the most prestigious American institute of higher education. However, in the 2010 Newsweek ranking of “Best Gay-Friendly Schools,” Harvard failed to even make the Top 25, being bested by our Ivy League peers at UPenn, Princeton, Columbia, Brown, and Cornell. There are many factors that determine a university’s greatness, and the commitment of the student body to the acceptance of their peers should be our concern.

My experiences do not suggest, by any measure, that all of our students hold the same menacing anxieties as those whom I have encountered. However, no student should ever be complicit in homophobia on our campus. It is our duty to speak out against every form of bigotry that we witness—doing so is part of our moral obligation as Harvard students and human beings.

Saieed Hasnoo ‘12, The Crimson’s associate business manager, is an Economics concentrator in Currier House.

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