The love that dare …

The love that dare not speak its name, sodomist, that way, temperamental, in the life, homosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and now queer. What people call us and what we call ourselves has changed over the years and will continue to change as people’s conceptions of themselves change.
The decision of the newly named Queer Student Cultural Center (formerly The Association of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Student Organization and Their Friends) to reclaim the word “queer” and use it in a positive way happened for several reasons.
First, we want to increase the public’s recognition of our center as a cultural center. Because our old name did not contain the words “cultural center,” we were not always acknowledged as such.
Second, the fact is that not everyone neatly fits into the conceptual boxes of straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. We at the center feel that the word “queer” is more inclusive of the many different and fluid identities that make up our community.
Third, 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.
The existence of a queer culture is a contentious issue, mostly because there is no easily definable social behavior connected with this diverse grouping. Just as there is no one homosexual lifestyle because the diversity of our community is so great, queer culture cannot be defined in singular terms but rather as a conglomeration of many cultures that feed into the queer community.
Some widely recognized artists contributed to queer culture: Langston Hughes, Oscar Wilde, Rita Mae Brown, Walt Whitman, Audre Lorde, Keith Haring and Alison Bechdel, to name just a few. While these artists are not necessarily representative of everyone in the queer community, they have expressed their own sense of the culture and helped to define the queer community as a whole.
There are also some common experiences — coming out, for example — that many members of the queer community share and which feed into their unique perspective as queer people. Shared experiences, artistic and intellectual expression, and a sense of common understanding are the kinds of things that define a culture.
While queer culture is not necessarily something that one is born into, our experiences as queer people influence how we see the world. As a cultural center, our goal is to provide a safe space for exploring the many facets of our culture.
Increasingly, people are realizing the fluidity of both gender and sexuality. As a result, the community is often more comfortable with an umbrella term like queer than one that has specific gender connotations like gay or lesbian.
Just as Minnesota has positioned itself on what some consider to be the cutting edge by being the only state to include protection of transgender people in its human rights bill, Minnesotan organizations such as Q-Minnesota (formerly the Gay and Lesbian Community Action Council) are also breaking new ground by helping to define the queer community.
A protest held at the University several years ago by Queer Nation and the National Organization for Women aptly demonstrates the power that the reclamation of this word can have. The protest was held in response to an appearance by the comedian Andrew Dice Clay, who included typically virulent homophobic and misogynistic material in his performances.
A group of about 20 protesters wielding a Queer Nation banner stood outside Northrop Auditorium. As the audience arrived the atmosphere got very tense. A large group of audience members began chanting “queer” at the protesters. And yet, the feeble attempt at provocation had no effect on the protesters, as they were obviously proud to call themselves queer.
In our discussion over the name change, some members questioned the potential reactions of those in the queer community as well as those who identify as heterosexual.
We took all voiced concerns into account when making this decision. But we focused most on the potential consequences to those within the community. One important point of deliberation was the question of whether or not the term queer was primarily used to reference white males.
Taking this and other issues into consideration, we committed to working to ensure the inclusiveness of our center. We discussed several other name options suggested by our members such as, “Pride Student Cultural Center” and “Stonewall Student Cultural Center.” While these options are both very viable, we believe that “Queer Student Cultural Center” possesses more potential power to help the community.
We realize that education is necessary before people fully understand our choice, and we are more than willing to work on that. Anyone is free to drop by our center at 230A Coffman Memorial Union to discuss this issue or just to hang out. 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.

Matthew Strickler is co-chair of the Queer Student Cultural Center.