Why we #StandWithUpstate
Recently, we’ve had some questions about our #StandWithUpstate photos and what they are about. The hashtag originated on social media in response to attacks on queer visibility at University of South Carolina Upstate, in particular, Leigh Hendrix’ performance of “How to be a Lesbian in 10 Days or Less” at the Bodies of Knowledge symposium celebrating queer visibility and diversity. Republican state senators, in opposition to Hendrix’ and USC Upstate’s decision to host her as a speaker at the symposium, have referred to her performance as “recruiting”, “perversion”, and ” indoctrination”.
Hendrix, on the other hand, created the show and the theatrical character of Butchy McDyke to promote queer visibility in the college environment.
“It has always been my goal to make gay and lesbian students feel like a visible and valued part of the student population,” Johnson said. “Leigh’s performance would have been a funny and light-hearted way to combat the invisibility of LGBTQ people in the traditional college curriculum.”
Naturally, not everyone sees things that way. State Senator Lee Bright, in a statement that could only be made without any sense of self-awareness or irony, said:
“College should be about a wide variety of opinion, not just the agenda of the left. USC Upstate has become a place of indoctrination, not free inquiry,”
“Free inquiry” does not include the deliberate marginalization of queer identities because they disagree with one’s own conception of what is “normal”. Queerness is normal. Just as normal as the socially construction institution of compulsory heterosexuality that positions queer and trans identities at the periphery and centers heterosexuality and cisgender identity as the stamdard from which acceptable social reality deviates. All students deserve the same respect of their identities, and the same validation and affirmation that straight and cisgender students receive every day – not only during a week of speakers at a symposium at USC Upstate, but every day on their campuses in every part of the country.
Leigh Hendrix is not the only target, however. South Carolina state legislators have taken direct aim at students by taking retaliatory action by passing budget cuts levelled at USC Upstate and the College of Charleston for promoting books containing “homosexual themes” in their curriculum. Alison Bechdel’s “Fun Home” and “Out Loud: The Best of Rainbow Radio” were identified as unacceptable parts of the CoC and USC Upstate curriculum by students objecting to the books’ content. They complained to state Representative Garry Smith, who proposed nearly $70,000 in funding cuts to the universities, which were later approved.
Instead of trying to further marginalize queer students by rendering them invisible through reactionary cuts in funding or censorship of public declarations of queerness, we should promote environments of acceptance on college campuses – after all, we all have a right to exist and to exist on our terms as students. The reality of queer identities is no more indoctrination than the established, culturally imposed normative assumption of heterosexuality, and the courageous declaration of defiance expressed by queer students should be celebrated rather than feared. The transgressive nature of queer identity only exists because individuals like Mr. Bright so rigidly adhere to their vision of a homogeneous, cisnormative, heteronormative society that fails to account for our wonderful diversity.
It is with this recognition of the reality of queer and trans identities, and the belief in the importance of equal opportunity for self-actualization and affirmation for all students that we at ETSU #StandWithUpstate in solidarity, just as we stand with queer and trans students on our own campus.