Taking the ‘Queer’ Out of QRC

This
summer, as part of my preparations to become a mentor for first-year students at
Pitzer College, I attended a three-hour training session on how to be an ally
for the LGBT community. The training was
conducted by Adriana di Bartolo, who serves as director of the Queer Resource
Center, otherwise known as the QRC. The training was entertaining, interactive,
informative and thought-provoking. I
left feeling considerably more knowledgeable about issues facing the LGBT
community as well as the support network that exists for students at the Claremont
Colleges.

To
be honest, though, this is the first experience I have ever had with the Queer
Resource Center. Despite identifying as
gay, I have never felt comfortable going to the QRC, mostly because of the name
of the organization. Not only do I not
identify as ‘queer,’ but the word also evokes numerous negative emotions that
have always been difficult for me, and perhaps many others, to overcome.

I
don’t really think of the word ‘queer’ as having a positive connotation at
all. The word has a long history of
being used as a derogatory slang word for homosexuals or effeminate males. As a gay male who was out of the closet for a
significant portion of high school, I am very familiar with—and was
occasionally the target of—teasing and name-calling. 

I
never enjoyed being called ‘queer,’ ‘faggot,’ ‘fruitcake’ or any of the
other mean words people would use. Those days of being teased and picked on in
middle school are easily some of the worst memories of my short life. This sort of bullying often left me feeling stressed,
isolated and depressed.

I
am aware that the discrimination I faced growing up in a liberal Southern
California community may not be not nearly as severe as what others have faced in
their own communities. Because the
Claremont Colleges draw students from every corner of the nation and the
globe, it is imperative we keep in mind that some may have had very traumatic
experiences with the word and the culture of hatred that so often accompanies
it.

Looking
up ‘queer’ in any dictionary, one will find a definition something along the
lines of strange, odd, questionable, suspicious or shady. None of these words cast a positive light on the LGBT community. We may be part of a
sexual or gender minority, but that certainly does not mean we are strange or
weird. People need to understand that identifying
as a sexual or gender minority is completely normal and okay. Here at the Claremont Colleges, it isn’t even
very out of the ordinary.

What
confuses me more than the word being socially accepted is that the LGBT
community has evidently embraced its usage. In my view, when used to refer to gays, the word ‘queer’ is offensive, derogatory and rude. When people who identify as
LGBT use it to describe themselves, they are—perhaps unintentionally—embracing
the idea that we are weird, strange and bad. I respect that everyone has the right to identify as they wish, but
using a word like ‘queer’ is inherently self-deprecating.

Some
would tell you that in embracing ‘queer,’ the LGBT community has reclaimed the
word and taken away its power. Perhaps
this is true for some, but we can never erase from our history the pain and
suffering that words like ‘queer’ have inflicted on so many members of the LGBT
community. The same argument has been
made about the N-word in the African-American community. While that debate also remains unresolved,
very few would argue that the N-word should ever be used for official purposes, such as naming a resource center on a college campus.

Many
people have indicated that ‘queer’ seems to be an all-encompassing label for
the greater LGBT community. In the
complex spectrum of gender and sexuality minorities, I certainly understand
that an acronym such as LGBT is not necessarily inclusive of all
identities. As a cis-gender gay man, I also
understand that I exercise a certain privilege in that I am included in that
acronym which is so commonly used. However, framing the entire community with a word that has such adverse
implications cannot possibly help our common cause.

As the QRC continues
its mission to reach out to students at the Claremont Colleges, it would be
commendable to begin a dialogue by asking what can be done to make itself more
accessible as an organization. For example, rebranding itself as the “Sexuality
& Gender Resource Center” could be a very positive first step in further
integration into the 5C culture.

But
who am I to decide what it should be called? My goal here is to make both
students and faculty members aware of the severe connotations the word ‘queer’ continues to carry. Changing—even keeping—the name of such a staple institution
of the 5Cs requires more than just an op-ed; it requires a campus-wide effort
to understand the history behind the word and how it affects the LGBT community
today.

To
be clear, I am not in any way trying to attack the Queer Resource Center. They are most certainly an invaluable asset
to the Claremont Colleges that facilitates important services, resources and
events. It is my sincere belief,
however, that changing the name to something more inclusive and welcoming would
serve to make the organization a stronger and more effective presence on
campus.

Chance Kawar PZ ’17 is a political studies major from San Diego, Calif. He currently serves as sophomore class president at Pitzer College.

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