Awareness Schmawareness

So, Queer Awareness Week came and went, and I can’t help it – Ifeel a little let down. At the risk of alienating the sizeablequeer community here at Portland State (holla!), and offendingindividuals for whom I have a great deal of respect (studentactivists like Mary Fletcher who organized Queer Awareness week),I’m going to dedicate my debut column in the Vanguard to The WayQueer Week Should Have Been.

Thanks to the efforts of tireless student activists, I noticedthe flyers for Queer Awareness week early on, so I set aside mymisgivings and donned denim pants for last Monday’s Blue Jean Day.For those who missed it, if you wore blue jeans April 19, itdemonstrated your support the queer community. The idea behind BlueJean Day is that since so many people wear jeans anyhow, they’ll besupporting queers even if they don’t know it.

While I appreciate the irony that even the most bigotedgay-bashers were probably, by default, supporting queers, tryexplaining how not doing anything different is going to raiseawareness. If awareness is the goal of the action, I suggest having”Neon Orange Pants Day” in place of Blue Jean Day. If all thequeers and allies were wearing neon orange pants, there would be noignoring it. Everyone would be talking – I doubt even one personasked, “Why is everyone wearing jeans?” But I am certain that neonorange pants would peak curiosities. By the end of the day everyonewould be aware of queers. And that would only be the beginning of along full week of acknowledging queer activity.

Another event was the Day of Silence, Wednesday, April 21, whenvolunteers vowed not to speak in protest of discrimination andharassment against queers. Bringing attention to the violentactions resulting from taught hatred, those participating worebuttons or stickers with text explaining the reason for theirsilence. The action is intended to be serious and somber.

I find gay-bashing to be very real and extremely frightening.And considering the proposed constitutional amendment banningsame-sex marriage, I fully understand that discrimination is stillrampant in the United States. What would definitely increaseawareness instead of a Day of Silence would be a “Day of Shouting.”On this day queers and allies would refuse to speak in anythingless than a yell. Every time we opened our mouths, we wouldincrease awareness; the first response would be to ask, “Why areyou shouting at me?” We could then explain that we’re stepping upfor those who weren’t lucky enough to be survivors of hate crimesand that we’re being extra loud for our friends that will neverhave a chance to speak again.

Not only would a “Day of Shouting” raise awareness and provokethought regarding hate crimes, it would also allow more people tobe involved. As it is, not everyone is privileged enough to be ableto remain silent for an entire day, or to wear pins and stickersall day supporting various causes. I’m referring specifically tostudents who also work. I would never be able to remain silent afull day if I had to work, and I wouldn’t be allowed to wear a pineither. But I could raise my voice a few decibels for the kids inhomo heaven.

Shouting would bring anger, resistance, retaliation and defianceto the day, whereas silence speaks volumes for passivity andrepression. Everyone might as well go back into the closet.

The only other thing I saw personally last week that related toQueer Awareness week was the folks selling T-shirts between Smithand Neuberger. The shirts came in all colors of the rainbow and onthe front read, “Gay? Fine by me!” Once again, if I were queen, I’dopt for a more in-you-face approach. Perhaps next year’s shirts canread, “Gay? That’s so fucking hot/great/fantastic!”

I guess what I personally want from Queer Awareness week is pep.I want attitude. I want visibility and pride. I want people andactions that don’t blend in, cater to mainstream or allow people tocontinue floating around unaware of the violent backlashexperienced by the queer community.

If, as Christopher Healy reported in the April 24, 2004 issue of”The Advocate,” the United States saw a 24 percent increase in hatecrimes against gays in the second half of 2003 after the SupremeCourt ruled to strike down the country’s sodomy laws, then we haveto look out for the same kind of response now to the marriage andconstitutional amendment media coverage. And that’s something thatmakes me feel like screaming.