Coming Out Week marks 10 years of redefining ‘queer’

When state Rep. Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis) came out at St. Thomas University in the early 1980s, students derided him as a “queer.”

Things have changed since then, and not just because the public at large is more tolerant.

Over the past two decades, the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community has redefined the word “queer.”

The 10-year anniversary of re-connoting the word underpins this year’s National Coming Out Week at the University. Events include Dibble’s speaking appearance on campus Tuesday and a Coming Out Day ceremony Thursday.

“We use the word ‘queer’ as an umbrella term for gays, lesbians, transgender students and bisexuals,” said Brian Wiedenmeier, co-chairman of the Queer Student Cultural Center.

With the effort to redefine the word “queer,” center officials said they want to emphasize inclusiveness.

“The fact is that not everyone neatly fits into the conceptual boxes of straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender,” wrote Matt Strickler in an essay for QSCC. “It gives us the opportunity to reclaim a word that has been and often continues to be used against us. By reclaiming the word, we take away the pejorative power. The word ‘queer’ can no longer be used to hurt us if we redefine it.”

There was concern in reclaiming the name because “some members questioned the potential reactions of those in the queer community as well as those who identify as heterosexual,” Strickler said.

“Our hope is that, in the reclamation and redefinition of this word, we can empower all those who somehow identify with the queer community to claim the power of self-identification and naming,” Strickler said.

Dibble spoke to students Tuesday night about the importance of getting involved to help further evolve the queer lifestyle.

He attended St. Thomas University before he transferred to the University of Minnesota in the early ’80s.

“I came out at St. Thomas and was shocked by the homophobia,” said Dibble. “I was forced to examine basic assumptions.”

Dibble said the climate at St. Thomas was intolerant of gays, so he felt the University would be more accommodating.

“AIDS was unknown and a mystery at this time,” said Dibble. “President (Ronald) Reagan never said anything about it in the beginning of his administration. It was a deafening silence.”

Dibble got interested in mainstream politics after becoming involved in gay and lesbian organizations.

“I led a dual life,” said Dibble. “I was a protester, but I got involved in party politics too. I am extremely partisan.”

Dibble encouraged students to get involved in political issues facing the GLBT community by contacting their state representatives.

“Invite them out for coffee, come out to them and let them know who you are. It will affect them,” said Dibble.

This was Dibble’s first year as a state representative. He said he was amiably welcomed at the Capitol, but he had heard of horror stories in the past.

“I never received anything threatening,” Dibble said. “Perhaps that’s some testimony as to how far we’ve come.”

Wiedenmeier agreed the GLBT community needed to become more involved in politics.

“We need to talk about health care and housing,” he said. “Those issues that we take for granted are at risk.”

For National Coming Out Day on Thursday, QSCC will host a rally on the West Bank Plaza in which students will walk through a makeshift door to officially come out.

“The week has been going really well and busy,” said Wiedenmeier. “… Discussions have had good attendance and we still have the rally and dance yet to come.”

However, QSCC did file a formal harassment complaint after 60 to 70 fliers were torn down on the East Bank.

“About 150 fliers were put up on Monday but someone managed to take the time and effort to tear them down,” Wiedenmeier said.

Elizabeth Putnam welcomes comments at [email protected]