1997: Coming Out Day chalkings

Editorial: Some miss the point of NCOD chalkings

By E.M. Proper, published October 17, 1997

Despite all of the complaining many students do about chalking, most of the time it's not a problem on our campus. Generally, about the time it gets to be an eyesore (like at the end of fall rush), Cleveland's weather systems kick in, and all the chalk is washed away, along with feelings of annoyance at the prolific chalkers.

Once or twice a year, though, something is written on our sidewalks that remains with us long past the next rain. Such was the case earlier with the squirrel and monkey chalkings; whatever their intent, their result was an understandable fury among the CWRU community. And then, just a few weeks later, it happened again.

This time, no one can make a case that the chalkings were not directed against a specific group. The chalker(s) got very busy last Saturday night and managed to cover campus from one end to the other in antigay messages, specifically targeting the messages the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Alliance had written regarding National Coming Out Day (NCOD).

In years past there have been anti-gay chalkings in response to the NCOD ones, but this year's reaction was particularly brutal. First of all, the GLBA's messages were very positive and non-confrontational this time around. Secondly, the scope and anger of the reactionary chalkings far exceeded any done in previous years.

While few people are rushing to condone the anti-gay chalkings, I have seen among my peers an amazing reluctance to condemn them - not just among those who are admittedly anti-gay, but among those who consider themselves open-minded and nonhomophobic. It is these people, I think, who need to reconsider their frame of mind towards this incident.

What exactly is wrong with what was done? First, the chalkings were anonymous; second, they violated the general air of goodwill that permeates most chalkings; and finally, they weren't very relevant in their attacks.

Generally, when groups chalk on this campus, they sign their names (or that of their group). For example, messages beneath our feet have been encouraging us to vote for the homecoming candidates of Alpha Phi and Alpha Chi Omega for over a week now. While not every message in support of Julie Leach's candidacy was signed "ACW," we managed to deduce that the sisters of Alpha Chi Omega were the ones urging us to give Leach our votes. Similarly, many of the NCOD chalkings were signed "GLBA." Using our deductive reasoning skills, we once again managed to conclude that it was the GLBA was asking for support for NCOD.

But who was writing these anti-gay messages? The only conclusion I reached was that it was someone who was not overly gayfriendly. Despite all the chalkers' claims to "veracity" and "self-confidence," the very fact that they were reluctant to sign their names suggests that they are lacking at least the latter. Otherwise, why would they have been afraid to sign their names?

Besides their anonymity, the chalkers violated one other unspoken rule of the chalking world: politeness and good-will. I didn't see any chalkings suggesting that someone else's Homecoming candidate was actually a violent criminal or otherwise incompetent. Even during national elections, only a few cracks are made at the other party's candidate. And I would never expect to see one fraternity writing on another's message that they were all losers, weenies and drunks. Basic regard for others' feelings and respect for their positions is a ground rule, even if an unspoken one.

Finally, and certainly not least importantly, the anti-gay chalkers seemed to miss the entire point of the NCOD messages they railed on. Did they read something different than I did? The responses stressed sex, HIV and promiscuity. The originals discussed only the matter of sexual orientation. The respondents seemed to forget that one can be homosexual without having intercourse (yes! just like straight people!), that the fastest-growing population of AIDS patients is straight women and that homosexuals are no more or less promiscuous than the rest of us.

The most disturbing implication of their messages, though, was this: homosexuals should just stay in the closet because us straight people will be grossed out and, besides, us straight people don't go around announcing our heterosexuality. I can't speak for how refined anyone else's sensibilities may be, but I would like to assure the antigay chalkers that it would take a heck of a lot more than a revelation of homosexuality (or, for that matter, gay sex) to turn my stomach. Those of us who are straight go around announcing our sexual orientation every day without our gay friends and neighbors announcing a queasy feeling at the report of it.

Of course we go around announcing how straight we are. Every time we hold hands with someone of the opposite gender, every time we scope out cute men and women at a party, every time a woman complains that all men are scum, every time a man complains that CWRU chicks are ugly, we tell the entire world that we prefer our encounters straight. Our sexual preference is announced in almost everything we do.

And if we - or even some small fraction of our campus - isn't willing to allow homosexuals to do that for just one day a year, and in a rather impersonal manner, I'm ashamed to be a part of it.