Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Thing That Came Out of the GLOP
There was a little squib in the Capital Times yesterday about how the local chapter of GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, is changing its name to the Gay-Straight Alliance for Safe Schools. This post has nothing to do with either of those organizations. It's about something I thought of while reading the story--something I hadn't thought about in years.

In the fall of 1980, the University of Wisconsin at Platteville got its first gay and lesbian organization. When the group tried to get official sanction and funding from student fees, controversy erupted. Platteville was small-town Wisconsin, and UWP a school attended largely by small-town and rural kids. A good bit of the opposition to the gay group was of the "icky icky eww gross" variety, as it dawned on the small-town and rural kids that there were gay people in their midst. That unfamiliarity with gay people plunged the campus into a swirl of misinformation and bigotry. Some students argued that if gays and lesbians were granted official university recognition, "witch covens, cults, and anti-American organizations" would be next. A few students formed an organization designed to protect heterosexual rights. (And probably grew up to become Republicans.)

The gay-student organization made a critical misstep at the beginning that made it easier for people to think of them as icky. They called themselves "Gays and Lesbians of Platteville," which was quickly condensed to its acronym: "GLOP."

A certain campus newspaper columnist whose regular beat was music thought the anti-gay students were way out of line. So he wrote an impassioned screed about the GLOP affair, defending the right of gay and lesbian students to organize, and criticizing those who criticized them. He waited until just before deadline to turn it in, in place of his usual music column. He figured this would force the editors to run the thing, even though he had been told several times to stick to music and leave the politics to other writers. He was right. The columnist wrote:
Although I wouldn't want my kid to be homosexual (were such a thing up to me), the fact remains that some people are. And as far as I'm concerned, so what? These folks (known far and wide, it seems, as the G.L.O.P.) aren't likely to set up a table in the Student Center hallway and hold a recruiting drive. I don't expect them to enter a float in the Homecoming parade, but they have the right to if they want to. . . .

In the past month or so, at times the ignorance on this campus and in the Platteville community has been so thick you could cut it with the proverbial knife. There's been a great over abundance of bigoted, close-minded rhetoric, which is disappointing coming from an institution that is supposed to be a place of education and enlightenment. In the face of all that, it takes a hell of a lot of courage to admit to a taboo like homosexuality, and it is mighty admirable to try and improve the lot of those who are [gay], even in a small way.
I was a rural kid from a small-town high school, and I'd never met a gay person in my life as far as I knew--but the position I took in that column was the only one that made sense to me, even though homosexuality was as foreign to me as Sanskrit. As I wrote last winter at The Hits Just Keep on Comin', I'm not especially proud of many columns I wrote for the paper between 1979 and 1981. The rhetorical tics I had back then make me squirm with embarrassment now; neither do I agree today with every opinion I held then. In fact, I often wonder what the hell I could have been thinking.

Not this time.

Recommended Reading: The day Al Jazeera (and paranoia) came to North Dakota and God wants you to beat your children.

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