I was reading The Daily Collegian, Penn Stateís campus newspaper, over lunch this afternoon, and a front-page article caught my eye. The headline read:
This probably doesnít mean anything to you, since you probably donít know what STRAIGHT is, or was (though if you take the time to think about it, itíll probably become fairly obvious). Cutting to the chase, STRAIGHT stands for Students Reinforcing Adherence in General Heterosexual Traditions. (This technically spells "SRAIGHT," but no one involved seems to care.)
Before I talk about STRAIGHT, however, Iíd like to talk about something that existed, in a much less formal manner, back in high school, called CALAH. CALAH was something that sprung up my junior year in high school. I had an American Cultures class taught by Mr. Mortimer, who also taught some classes to seniors. Apparently the one senior class had a rather extreme division of opinions on most issues, and somewhere along the lineóand I have no interest in knowing the details of how this all came aboutóthe one group formed CALAH, which stood for Conservatives Against Liberals And Homosexuals.
They had a fairly-well-organized formal structure, with four officers, and a photocopied admissions test on which you were asked your opinions on certain issues such as homosexuality and abortion, and if you put down the correct answers, you were allowed to become a member. I saw a completed form (if one can call it a form) once, and for the question about homosexuality the person who had filled it out commented that "All homosexuals should be burned in a big bonfire." Iíve always wondered if he thought he was being witty or if he was actually demented enough to believe that. One of my classmates tried to enter, and was rejected for his opinions on one of the issues, Iím not certain which anymore, probably abortion. Mr. Mortimer, who had no great love for CALAH (I seem to recall him frequently referring to them as "commies," but he was a smart enough man to realize that free discussion was far preferable to disallowing within his classroom any idea, opinion, or personal philosophy with which he didnít personally agree.), found this endlessly amusing, and ribbed the guy about it pretty mercilessly. My favorite part of this was when the student admitted that CALAHís president told him that he could still be a member; theyíd just give him the admissions paper again and he could put down the correct answers. Thereís something truly classic about that.
This hadnít gone on for too long before the other side of that class decided that something had to be done, so they formed their own group, called CALAH, which stood for Conservative Absurdities Lobbying Against Humanity. They took a more liberal stance on most issues, rejecting many CALAH (um, CALAH 1) opinions, such as the bonfire thing. There were bulletin boards on either side of a disused blackboard at the back of the room, and Mr. Mortimer gave each CALAH one of them. They put up various articles and drawings and quotes supporting their positions, and engaged in wonderful arguments (most of which I heard about second-hand), and were just generally a load of non-delinquent fun.
For the record, I found the second CALAH a much-preferable alternative (as if you had any doubt). The original CALAH creeped me out, not so in terms of what they believed in as much as how popular they seemed to be. I found it appalling. People would hear the name of the organization, and what it stood for, and theyíd laugh, then say "Yes!í and ask to join up. I laughed the first time I heard it as well, because I thought it was a joke. Goes to show what I knew, I suppose. Everyone seemed to want to join. By the time June came around, the seniors had already picked out which members they wanted to be officers next year (though as far as I know, once the seniors graduated they took the whole CALAH issue with them). They seemed to be against just about everything, and they were clearly in the majority, and logic didnít seem to convince them of anything, and people like this are in charge, and for the first time I began to understand not just THAT the world is fucked up, but WHY. It was not too long after this that I started commenting that the scary thing is that in thirty years these people will be running the nation, and I myself hope and plan to be dead by then. When I say that, Iím mostly joking.
In any case, CALAH pretty much died out, and optimist that I am I figured Iíd seen the end of it. But, early in my time at college, a group started that drew attention. The group was called STRAIGHT, and they were trying to become an official Penn State organization. I was stunned when I read about what their position was on various issues. My main thought was, "This is just like CALAH." Which, frankly, it was. Only unlike CALAH, STRAIGHT wasnít a good-natured joke at the core. It had official charters and guidelines and other things an official organization needs, and it was getting a LOT of attention (The organization was given some national attention by eMpTyV).
This was quite the topic of discussion around campus for quite some time, even more popular than the dildo that ran for Undergraduate Student Government one year. STRAIGHT received an official stamp of approval from the Willard Preacher, a fundamentalist with some mental problems and minor local celebrity who stands outside the main entrance to Willard Building and explains how everyone who doesnít agree with his narrow view of Christianity is going straight to hell.
To make a long story short, after a lot of debate and hoopla, STRAIGHT got their official university charter and promptly dropped off the face of the Earth. I guess once they officially existed, there was no major base of controversy surrounding them, and therefore no media attention. Everyone seemed to forget about them. I certainly had, partly due to the lack of attention and partly due to my not wanting to have anything to do with them, until I read the article in the Collegian today. So, I decided to check out STRAIGHTís website while it still existed.
Here is STRAIGHTís mission statement proposal:
STRAIGHT exists to:
Iíll be honest: I wasnít aware that the "institution of heterosexual marriage" was in such danger that it required a group to actively promote it. Frankly, I think heterosexual marriages need promoting about as much as the benefits of electricity. As for promoting morality, one canít help but wonder what this somewhat vague term means in this case. Morality is very much a matter of perspective, and (watch me go way out on a limb here) I suspect that STRAIGHTís concept of morality endorses and supports a fair degree of homophobia.
The freedom of religion argument here is ridiculous. Yes, Americans are granted freedom of religion. This allows people to believe as they choose, and worship as they choose, without interference of the government. It does not allow people to demand that other actions, ideals, or beliefs be amended, hidden, or outright forbidden on the grounds that it offends these peopleís religious sensibilities. If homosexuality offends you, tough. The actions and feelings of two consenting adults are none of your damn business. You donít want to actively support it, fine. But donít actively oppose it, either, because you have no right to make this choice for complete strangers for whom homosexuality is as natural as heterosexuality is to you. (An interesting comment on the siteís guestbook points out that STRAIGHT cited the fourteenth amendment to gain a University charter and is now actively opposing the citing of that same amendment to support homosexual causes.)
Iíve checked their website, looking for some sort of explanation of what the phrase "faults of comparing Ďsexual rightsí to Civil Rights" actually means, but havenít found anything, so Iím not going to say much about this one beyond that itís a neat-sounding phrase that apparently means nothing. Iíve found a mission proposal, FAQ, links, a message board full of largely positive recent messages (including, to be fair, at least one from a homosexual student who sees no problem with the organization) and a fairly lively debate from the early days of STRAIGHT, but not much of anything in the way of actual information or documentation about their philosophies.
So, in other wordsóand please correct me if Iím wrong hereóthis is basically a "Homosexuality is Wrong" organization, even though they say (largely because they were required to by the University in order to gain official recognition) theyíre not anti-gay:
No. S.T.R.A.I.G.H.T. members do not oppose equal protection or equal rights for homosexuals. S.T.R.A.I.G.H.T. opposes animosity directed against any individual. However, S.T.R.A.I.G.H.T. feels that it is important to protect the constitutional right to not force students to endorse or support homosexuality. For example: mandatory student activity fees that are unconstitionally [sic] used to promote political or ideological agendas that students would normally oppose.
So STRAIGHT doesnít oppose equal protection or equal rights, yet they feel that homosexual people shouldnít have the same right to state-sanctioned marriages that heterosexual people have. Does that add up? Does that make any sense at all to you? Me neither. STRAIGHT has, to my knowledge, never publicly directed any animosity against any individual, but it seems hard to deny that they direct animosity toward a rather large group of individuals. After all, once they were officially chartered by the university, one of the first things they did was to try to find a way to prohibit membership by homosexuals even though they had agreed in order to be chartered that such an act was not allowed.
I think an important point here is that if you can have pro-homosexuality organizations on campus, you have no grounds to deny pro-heterosexuality organizations, but a problem arises immediately in that a pro-heterosexuality group is almost completely useless. Itís called "preaching to the converted" and is an exercise in pointlessness. Trying to promote a view held by the majority of the population will gain you a lot of agreement and support, but thereís not much you can do in that position (and what courage it requires to take a stand like that). A pro-heterosexuality group can do little to advance its already-accepted cause, so if its going to do anything it has to oppose viewpoints that are in opposition, This however, makes it not pro-heterosexuality but rather anti-homosexuality, thereby creating, in essence, a "hate group" (this moniker will be hung on it whether fair or not in this modern era in which smear campaigns are an accepted practice; considering what this organization stands for, I believe itís appropriate to term STRAIGHT a hate group, no matter what they say).
Think that what I just said is ridiculous? Well, according to the Collegian article:
Once STRAIGHT was accepted as a Penn State organization, members were no longer compelled to incite controversy and lost interest in the group [according to STRAIGHTís president]... The group relied on the former LGBSA [Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Student Alliance, now the Lambda Student Alliance, LSA] to be visible, and once it became less active, STRAIGHT found itself without issues to address.
So without the stands of another group to oppose, STRAIGHT lost purpose and fell apart. Not exactly the sign of a group thatís capable of standing on its own merits, is it? If an organization can't survive without an active pro-homosexuality organization nearby, does it really qualify as pro-heterosexuality and not anti-homosexuality? The best comment Iíve heard about what STRAIGHT should have done is in the same article, spoken by the co-director of LSA:
"I am disappointed that the group will cease to exist because it would have been a great resource for heterosexuals. I think there are a lot of problems that specifically heterosexuals have to deal with, like broken marriages and out-of-wedlock pregnancies, and I think the group should have focused on that."
And I think that, even overlooking the strong likelihood that this quote starts with some polite tactfulness rather than an honest opinion of STRAIGHT, there are a lot of organizations out there that do try to focus on the things she cites here. But nonetheless, itís a good point. If STRAIGHT had wanted to strengthen heterosexual marriage, it shouldnít have focused on anti-homosexuality. It should have tried to deal with the problems that exist in heterosexual marriages. They could have done a lot more to promote and improve heterosexual marriage by making it a more attractive institution with increased resources for those who need them than by trying to destroy any other form of marriage.
But, itís always easier to destroy than to create, and while trying to deal with issues such as divorce and out-of-wedlock pregnancies could potentially have been helpful to many, itís far easier to simply denounce what is unpopular and fight against expanding rights to include a certain group whileóthis is the place where being a member of STRAIGHT got difficultósimultaneously claiming that you have absolutely nothing against that group. Iíve never bought into the "defense of marriage," or the implications that if you allow homosexual marriage that suddenly everyone in the nation will become a homosexual and go marry someone of the same sex. Heterosexuality is not threatened in this country, and any claim that it is threatened is based on fear and ignorance.
And now STRAIGHT is going to be history. My feeling is, good riddance. The group never contributed anything to the university except a lot of hot air and controversy (just what this world needs more of, hunh?), and weíll be better off without them. If only I had any faith that some other equally undesirable organization wonít soon spring up to take its place. Idiocy seems to endure. It's up to us to make sure that wisdom endures as well.
Date: Wed, 19 May 1999 23:11:44 -0400
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Alexander Cadman)
Subject: your website
I was browsing the Internet looking for the keywords "Willard Preacher" linking to an article on STRAIGHT, my former group. It was a well-written article and I can see how you have come to your conclusions. One thing I am confused about is how you connect "anti-homosexuality" with "hate group." How does simply being against something made someone full of hate?
Former President, STRAIGHT
PSU Class of 1999
-=[ Christ is Risen! Indeed, He is Risen! ]=-
Date: Fri, 21 May 1999 20:15:23 -0700 (PDT)
From: Varjak (email@example.com)
Subject: Re: your website
To: Alexander Cadman (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The reason I connect "anti-homosexuality" with "hate group" is because it's against a group of people who aren't harming anybody with their actions. A group that exists to denounce, disparage, or condemn a group of people for some characteristic they possess that is often (though admittedly not always) genetic is to condemn those people for a fundamental piece of their nature. This isn't accepting or tolerant. This is hateful. I wouldn't use the term "full of hate"--I feel that that would be an extreme description. But there is an animosity toward a group, an active, organized, chartered political effort against that group, and at the very least, it's not based on a love toward that group.
I checked STRAIGHT's website looking for something, anything, that I could point to and say "This is relevant to the groups' purpose without being anti-homosexual." I didn't find it. Hell, I didn't even find anything concrete. All I found was a bunch of carefully-worded vitriolic sentiments, vague generalities that could be interpreted to mean just about anything, and some nice-sounding phrases that, upon closer inspection, didn't seem to mean anything. I quoted the mission statement on my site as an example of this. At a glance, it sounds good, but when I really sat down and read it, it was all style and no substance. It's the group's mission statement, and it doesn't say ANYTHING.
The thing is, if you don't like homosexuality, fine. You have that right. Frankly, I think that there is nothing wrong with any prejudice, be it based on race, color, religious preference, sexual orientation, eye color, lefthandedness, whatever, as long as there is no discrimination coupled with it. If I detest some group of people for whatever reason, but I don't take it out on them, fine. If a person screening prospective job applicants for a company openly admits to hating black people, but will hire them if they're the most qualified person for the job, I have no problem with that either. Prejudice, hatred, dislike, whatever word you want to use to describe it or whatever extreme you take it to, is fine if not acted upon in a manner harmful to others.
But STRAIGHT crosses that line. For example, STRAIGHT opposed same-sex marriages. That's discrimination. That's an attempt to limit the rights of other people, the taking of ones own opinions and using them to prevent other people from having certain freedoms or rights. To my way of looking at it, the only laws that should exist--and I freely admit that this is not the way things actually work--are laws that spell out what freedoms people have, and what protections people have against infringements upon those rights. Laws intended to limit rights, such as the right for two people who love each other to marry, shouldn't exist. The only reasons to attempt to prevent, through legislation, two consenting adults who love each other and want to spend their life together are based on fear or a lack of knowledge. The fear that somehow expanding a right to another group will cheapen it, a lack of knowledge of what characteristics are and aren't influenced by homosexuality, and so on.
In short, if you and your fellow members of STRAIGHT are against homosexuals, even downright despise them, no problem. Everyone is entitled to an opinion. But when you form an organization that attempts to take or organize action against them, that makes for a hate group.
I hope this clarifies my position and answers your question. Feel free to write back if you still have questions.
CELEBRITIES SPEAK ABOUT VARJAK
"He's a pathetic loser." --Pauly Shore
"Nice hair." --Albert Einstein
"He's touched. Totally nuts." --Theodore Kaczynski
"People take him too seriously." --Jesus