I Didn’t Need to Engage with Legutko to Know Homophobia Exists — Did You?

By TAITE SHOMO

The past two weeks have been mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting. As one of the main organizers for the protest against Ryszard Legutko’s visit to campus, and the person whose name is now splashed across the media coverage of the (non) incident, I have had very little time to focus on anything else. I imagine that many people across campus — students, faculty, and administration alike — have been feeling the same way.

I’m not interested in sympathy; I chose to dedicate my time and energy to what I believed to be a worthwhile and fulfilling cause. I don’t want to debate whether or not I or others think Legutko should have been invited in the first place, or if he should have been allowed to speak in Matthew Dickinson’s political science class or if he should come back. What I want to talk about is queerphobia, and specifically queerphobia at Middlebury (I want to acknowledge here that, for the sake of brevity, I am using ‘queerphobia’ as a kind of catch-all term for the various types of injury and marginalization that Queer members of the community face).

What I want to talk about is queerphobia, and specifically queerphobia at Middlebury.”

One of the resounding arguments in favor of attending Legutko’s lecture and hearing him speak has been that it would allow students to challenge him on his queerphobic and otherwise bigoted views. I support and applaud people who wanted the opportunity to do so — I personally did not see any value in engaging directly with him, but I appreciate that other people considered that a legitimate form of resistance and learning for themselves.

I do want to trouble the notion, however, that engaging with Legutko face-to-face is the only or even the best way to learn how to argue against his views more effectively in the future, particularly in the case of queerphobic, xenophobic, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiments. I do not mean to criticize people who feel this way, but I do want to ask: why did it take an event such as this for people to learn how to advocate for Queer lives, or that this advocacy is necessary?

Mindful of the limits of strategically invoking one’s identity to make a political argument, I’m going to do it anyway: I am a gay person on this campus. I do not by any means speak for all gay or Queer people at Middlebury, but I believe that I can confidently say that most of us have faced queerphobia and other bigotry, sometimes on a daily basis, both outside of Middlebury and here on campus. For many of us, much of our lives has been an exercise in learning how to navigate unfriendly and dangerous environments and, indeed, in learning how to argue in defense of our own lives and rights. This is true for people who hold a variety of marginalized identities.

I implore you to ask yourself why you could not effectively make these arguments already.”

Marginalized people did not need to engage with Legutko to know that Middlebury is often a hostile place, and we did not need to engage with him to “learn” how to argue against bigotry here or elsewhere; unfortunately, we already know how. 

If Legutko’s visit was what it took for you to really cement your arguments for why Queer people should be given rights (and rights beyond just marriage), or why Muslims are not the downfall of Western civilization, then I implore you to ask yourself why you could not effectively make these arguments already. If Legutko’s visit was the reason you learned that Middlebury students experience Queerphobia, then I ask what that says about you, your priorities, and the people with whom you spend your time. And if you think that debating over people’s fundamental humanity is an interesting and engaging exercise or “practice” for other conversations, doesn’t that speak more to your own social positioning than to the actual benefits of doing so?

A sign made by Jess Garner in anticipation of the protest reads “They’re not “just words” if they have a body count: homophobia kills.” As we move forward in the wake of this newest rift in our community, I hope that we keep this in mind. For many of us, the sentiments that Legutko espouses are not merely offensive or controversial; they are indicative of a larger danger that threatens our bodily safety, not an opportunity for an intellectual debate.

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