By Abe Wapner
There are few things more exciting about living on the Lawn than giant snowball fights with hundreds of UVA students. When the impromptu fight Wednesday night ended and everyone came together on the Rotunda steps to sing the Good Old Song, I expected to hear the usual jeers about Virginia Tech. In my excitement, I did not expect to hear the “not gay” chant.
After almost four years at the University, those two words - “not gay” - still have the power to abruptly bring me down.
Late Wednesday night, I started to receive text messages from my friends.“We’re coming to the Lawn! Are you in your room?”, “Snowball fight on the Lawn!”, “Can I leave my things in your room while we streak in the cavalanche?” I opened my door to see a growing crowd of students gathering on the Lawn outside. Some were making snow angels, some were dancing and singing songs from Frozen, some were throwing snow at each other, and a few were even streaking through the frigid snow and fog. I left my room to join the others and spent the next hour laughing, playing, and cheering with my friends.
By 12:45AM, the crowd had begun to disperse. The last hundred students crowded together on the Rotunda steps for a heartwarming rendition of the Good Old Song. Beaming from ear to ear, I began to head towards the stairs as soon as I heard the singing start. Covered in snow, I fumbled to remove my gloves and record the song on my phone. This, I thought, is not a Good Old Song I want to forget. I had only taken a few steps when I heard it. Many in the group fist pumped twice as they shouted “NOT GAY” at the top of their lungs. I stopped in my tracks and, after a few confused and hurt seconds, turned around and headed back toward the warmth of my room and friends.
The “not gay” chant had the same effect on me that night as it’s had on countless members of UVA’s LGBTQ community: alienation. Every time those words are shouted, the message is broadcasted and received that students who identify as sexual minorities are not welcome members of this university.
When I sing the Good Old Song, I am filled with pride, happiness, and love for UVA and the friends I have grown close to since my arrival. When I hear the “not gay” chant, that elation shatters and into its place rushes feelings of rejection, frustration and fear. To feel both sets of emotions within seconds of each other is painful and disappointing.
Hearing anti-gay slurs is bad enough as an out and proud member of the LGBTQ community. But for those still closeted or questioning their sexuality, the damage is even worse. These people might not be easily identified as LGBTQ. They might not be sure of that identity themselves. Regardless of identification, the “not gay” chant sends a clear message to these students: come out and you will be rejected. Each time they hear it, these students are pushed deeper into the confusion and self-negation of the closet.
I find it hard to believe that my peers shouted “not gay” with malicious intent. Maybe those who shouted the chant thought it wouldn’t hurt or isolate anybody. But just as the casual use of “that’s gay” associates homosexuality with something negative or lesser, the “not gay” chant projects a clear assumption that being gay is something unwantedat UVA. I don’t think most UVA students are homophobic. Why, then, is homophobia part of our university cheer?
Ending the “not gay” chant is about accepting other students, no matter how they identify. If we in the LGBTQ and allied community remain silent, the voices that use our school’s chant to marginalize others sound louder than ever.
At 4PM on Friday, Feb 21, students, faculty, administrators and other members of the University community will gather on the south steps of the Rotunda to celebrate the Love is Love campaign and sing the Good Old Song. Join us, and, this time, let’s sing the Good Old Song the right way. Let’s sing a Good Old Song that isolates no one from the community of trust.
Let’s sing a Good Old Song that makes us proud to be Wahoos.
Photo: Wiki Commons
Abe Wapner is a fourth-year College student and co-vice president of the Queer Student Union.