This past week, the Bowdoin Queer-Straight Alliance (BQSA), along with a variety of other campus organizations including athletic teams and Residential Life, distributed a large number of shirts with the phrase, "Gay? Fine by me." These shirts—worn yesterday as part of Yellow Shirt Day—were intended to create a show of support for gay students at Bowdoin. Yet as a gay student here, I find the message deeply problematic and misguided.

By being distributed among Bowdoin's general population, which largely identifies as straight, these shirts do not empower non-straight students. The shirts actually have the opposite effect, marginalizing the LGBTIQ community by handing our identities over to the dominant majority. The slogan allows our value as queer individuals to be determined—and affirmed—by those who reap the benefit of the very heterosexual privilege we wish to eliminate, thereby sustaining such privilege rather than challenging it.

At first glance, the message of the shirts may seem unobjectionable and even admirable. Yet try placing other persecuted identities before the question mark, however, and the absurdity soon reveals itself. So you're "fine" with my sexual identity? Why is it your decision in the first place?

By only including "gay," the shirts also ignore other LGBTIQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer) identities. But even if they were included, the fundamental problem would remain. Instead, I propose shirts with the phrase, "Straight? Fine by me," so that heterosexual students may consider how it feels to have your sexuality considered an object of validation or hatred or disgust or toleration—on a daily basis. The central question would then become, "How do the current social norms assign privilege to a dominant group such that its members have the power to determine the validity of others' sexuality?"

This power differential is key to any regime of toleration. I suggest that Bowdoin's social atmosphere is a paradigmatic example of toleration with its accompanying limits and problems, as seen in the unquestioning embrace of these shirts. Toleration is often praised as the goal for which we must strive, but any embrace of toleration is necessarily an embrace of inequality: Who is in the position to tolerate, and who is relegated to being tolerated? In this way, toleration is a means of maintaining the dominance of a social norm while permitting some resistance to it. By appealing to toleration, distributing these shirts implicitly supports and accepts the privileged position of normative heterosexuality in our society and at Bowdoin. I doubt BQSA really wants to support the superior position socially granted to heterosexuality, but the message on these shirts does precisely that.

Given the particulars of Bowdoin culture, I find the message on these shirts most problematic. There may be fairly little open hostility toward LGBTIQ students at Bowdoin, but few pay attention to the subtler, constant and damaging ways in which heterosexual privilege manifests itself on a daily basis. These shirts do nothing to address this problem, and they in fact encourage Bowdoin students to pat themselves on the backs for being "tolerant" of gay students by merely wearing a yellow shirt.

Bowdoin is overflowing with privilege, and Bowdoin students are rarely asked to confront their myriad forms of it—be it the educational privilege of being a Bowdoin student, privilege of race, class, gender, sexuality and more. In order for Bowdoin to be a fairer place for all of its students, and in order for its claimed goal of striving for the "Common Good" to be more than just empty rhetoric, students must address this privilege at Bowdoin and in the larger world and work actively to eliminate it.

My argument may seem technical or "missing the broader point," but ideas and words structure our world—to ignore what any discursive move implicitly supports is to keep the conversation at the surface, preventing any attempts at lasting change that would question systemic problems at a deeper level. More viscerally, I don't feel safer when I see these shirts. Instead, I feel the full weight of structural violence that places my existence below others' and contingent upon their approval, merely because of whom I am sexually attracted to.

The widespread acceptance of the shirts' message in Bowdoin's non-heterosexual community demonstrates an oppressed group's internalization of the power structure that creates its oppression and produces its otherness. These shirts may be intended as a show of support, but their real impact is a profoundly backward step in erasing heterosexual privilege and moving toward a fairer, more just world.

J. Pasch is a member of the Class of 2011.