As part of OUTtober, Bowdoin Queer Straight Alliance (BQSA) launched a new poster initiative: “Queer History You Didn’t Know and History You Didn’t Know was Queer.” The idea arose out of a discussion among BQSA members about how many people, including members of the LGBTQ community, lack an understanding of queer history.
“We don’t really know our history because a lot of it’s been erased,” said BQSA officer Pauline Unietis ’20. “We lost a whole generation of gay men to the AIDS crisis and so there’s really a disconnect between the current generation and all our history.”
Gathered in Druckenmiller Hall on Monday evening, several members of BQSA chose queer historical figures to research from a long list that included Michelangelo, Sally Ride and Virginia Woolf. With this research, BQSA members created posters that will be hung around campus to spread awareness during OUTtober.
Having gained significant insight through their research, BQSA members want to illuminate queer history not only on campus but also within the local community.
After reading the list of gay historical figures, BQSA officer Unietis noted the ability to relate to queer people living as long ago as the fifteenth century.
“I think it’s important for people to see that being queer isn’t a new thing,” Unietis said. “Some people think it’s a fad. But it’s existed since forever.”
In addition to the new history archives, BQSA will once again be hosting Yellow Shirt Day, but with some changes from previous years. The event began in 2005 when the College Republicans brought homophobic speaker Michael Heath—who wanted to overturn Maine’s sexual orientation anti-discrimination law—to Bowdoin. Only the 10 to 20 people in the front row wore normal clothing—the rest of the audience wore yellow shirts as a manner of protesting Heath’s agenda.
Keeping the tradition alive, BQSA has transitioned to making yellow shirts for members of the College community. The current shirts say “Respect All genders. All sexualities.” This year, BQSA will be tabling in Smith Union with $5 yellow shirts from Monday through Wednesday.
However, while the tradition of wearing the shirts has continued, the discussions regarding their content has noticeably faded.
“As it became a habit, people stopped really talking about it, so we are trying to bring that back,” said BQSA officer Ari Mehrberg ’20.
To reignite the faded conversations at Bowdoin, BQSA is holding a campus discussion regarding Yellow Shirt Day and allyship on Tuesday in Daggett Lounge.
Mehrberg explained that initial programming did not have space built in to educate the people receiving the shirts. Distributors were not able to incite conversation about what the shirts represented, what it means to respect all genders and sexualities or about what students can do to be allies.
On Yellow Shirt Day, people will be able to talk in smaller groups and to think together about what community members can do to support one another and the queer community. These group discussions will be another new element to the event.
BQSA officer Rowan Etzel ’19 said attendees will learn “what people can actively do to be better allies to the queer community, from knowing the words to use to how to intervene in potentially hurtful conversations.”
With respect to allyship and respect, Mehrberg said the discussion will help the Bowdoin community in “fleshing out together what that means in a way that will hopefully be productive.”
This year’s OUTtober speaker, who will be on campus next Wednesday, is Kavi Ade, a black gender non-conforming poet.
“They are going to perform poetry about gender, sexuality, race or intersection and it’s going to be great, so I am really excited about that,” Unietis said.
With OUTtober falling so early in the academic year, Mehrberg said that the BQSA officer team hopes to “provide an opportunity for people to get their foot in the door, or at least go to an event if they think it sounds cool and maybe decide, if they want, to get more involved in the queer community.”
Because people have differing labels and varying degrees of certainty about their identities, Mehrberg sees dialogue as key.
“I think by talking about it, we can kind of help eliminate some of that tension and make spaces where everyone can feel welcome, and everyone can feel like they’re not either feeling pressured to be quiet about their identity or feeling pressured to kind of know their identity and label themselves,” they said.
Still, queer history can be for everyone, regardless of identity.
“The goal is to have as many people as possible attend, and inspire an atmosphere of learning, shared experience and dialogue, regardless of each person’s queer identity or lack thereof,” Etzel said.