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People’s reaction to Snowsports punishment shows bigotry is still rife on campus

Don’t just ignore offensive language

Rises in hate crime in this country, racially-motivated violence in America, a re-emergence of Nazism pretty much everywhere. What do all of these things have in common?

They began with rhetoric. Hypotheticals. Jokes.

Anyone who's been in the loop has been hearing all about the Lancaster Snow Sports Society's white t-shirt social. I've been arguing with people all over Lancaster campus about the seriousness of the messages these people wrote on their shirts, as well as how the University and Student Union should respond.

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Snowsports social at Sugarhouse

As a queer person, I felt incredibly unsafe when it seemed that people who proudly joked about the Holocaust – the mass incarceration and murder of thousands of gay people, among other minority communities – weren't going to be punished for doing so. I assumed that people who claim to be allies, people who claim to support oppressed communities, would understand this and be just as upset as I was. This was not the case.

In arguments with dozens of people, I was told that feeling unsafe doesn't mean I actually am unsafe. I was assured by my straight, cis friends that the social was just a joke, that the society members were just drunk, and I was overreacting. More than anything else, however, I was assured that they thought the jokes were terrible and that they themselves were actually very progressive.

And there we see the problem. The LGBTQ+ community (who I am focusing on as it is the only minority community I belong to) depends on support from its non-LGBTQ+ allies to ensure our rights are protected. What are we to do, then, when our allies just don't seem to care, and won't listen to us? Why can't we, the people who suffer this persecution, be trusted to point it out to those who don't? I've seen, first hand, what 'jokes' like these can lead to if left unchallenged.

In high school, I began questioning my sexuality, and made the mistake of confiding this to another student. That student shared this information with a lot of people, and I became a target for homophobic abuse. I thought about reporting them for what they were saying, but I convinced myself that these were just jokes, and therefore not something that could hurt me. What's more, I wasn't ready to talk about my sexuality to anyone, I hadn't even figured it out yet. Reporting them would have forced me into coming out.

Eventually, the 'jokes' that were thrown at me every day turned into something more. Students started following me home so they could continue to taunt me, and eventually they moved onto attacking me physically. In one incident, I was left with a bloody nose, bruises down my back and a limp that lasted a couple of days. Fortunately, I was able to explain these away as bad sinuses, stretch marks and a P.E. injury.

I could go on and on about my experiences with bigotry, but this piece isn't about me. This piece is about everyone. We've seen horrific rises in hate crime and violence towards minority communities, and of course there are many factors behind this. One of the biggest, however, is the lack of reaction to early forms of bigotry.

I explained my history with homophobic abuse to the people I was arguing with, and they said that what I suffered was terrible, but that it was a far cry from what happened at the white t-shirt social. One POC student told me that they were fine with people making jokes about their race, but if anyone has a real problem they could step outside and 'go a couple rounds'. That may be fine for some, but when you're 5'8 and weigh 130 pounds, this isn't really an option.

And why should it be? Are we really still at the point where someone has to be assaulted before something is done to protect them? If I pay to attend a university, it is the administration's responsibility to ensure my safety.

This doesn't just apply to university, though. The offhand comments, the silly jokes, the small gestures, they all mean more than you think. Ignoring these things emboldens people. I was glad to hear about the Snow Sports Society members' punishment, but it's still demoralising to know how many people don't think it was deserved.

If you genuinely don't care about anybody's sexuality or gender identity, that's great, but it's not the same thing as supporting the LGBTQ+ community. You can only support us if you do care. If you want to claim that you support LGBTQ+ rights, racial equality, women's rights etc., then you need to start actually listening to us when we tell you what bigotry looks like.