What follows is a brief and final account of the “Queerin’ Putnam” event, with an emphasis on the facts as we know them. My intention is not to stir up what might have been settled the other night—I’m happy to report that the event went beautifully, drag queen and kissing and all. Rather, I want to share what I learned while attending the queer-in and offer some suggestions for how we might pop the Skidmore bubble.
The queer takeover of Putnam Den was headed by two Skidmore students, one of whom claimed to have been the most recent victim in a tradition of homophobic behavior on the part of Putnam management. The first thing to do in this sort of situation is to get the facts out. According to the comments on SU.com: first both girls were kicked out, then only one, but they were both 21, and then one admitted to being 20, but not drinking or being drunk, but video footage supposedly shows her with a beer in her hand. When the facts of a story change that much, it makes you wonder.
In this instance, it is absolutely critical to ascertain if the student in question was drinking underage. I say this not to “delegitimize” anyone’s experience, but to remind us of the responsibilities of the Den. If someone is drinking underage, they will get thrown out, and I’m sorry, but that behavior can’t be attributed to homophobia, especially if the hand holding that beer has an ‘X’ on it. The Den is an 18+ club. In opening itself to the underaged, it has assumed risks beyond those of other bars and clubs in the area. It has to stay on top of things.
Ok, that’s that. What about how the event was organized, and the tone that was used to frame it? The queer-in was billed as a test of Putnam management, where demonstrators would reward the staff, i.e. purchase drinks, if the management “don’t harass us or make us feel uncomfortable”. And despite what the organizers claim, the language used in communications to participants and to the online community at large were dripping with hostility. Their minds were already made up. And this is where they lost me, and from reading the comments, I wasn’t the only one: was this really about Putnam and making a place safer? Or was it part of a personal quest against a member of the staff for an incident demonstrably secondary to queerness?
Putnam Den handled the event with grace. A local drag queen volunteered her talents and put on a fundraiser for the Trevor Project, an LGBTQ crisis intervention hotline. Putnam staff was wearing bright blue, the official color of the queer-in. The owners debuted the idea of a queer night once a month, although as some locals have pointed out, they consider every night to be queer night at the Den. They made a sincere effort to let us know that they are our allies, that they will kick out unsavory patrons in a heartbeat to keep you safe, and they’re happy to welcome us all back, even if this entire fiasco may lead to their 18+ license being revoked.
This demonstration was targeted at Putnam not because it needed to be more accepting—try comparing it to Gaffney’s or Clancy’s, where crossing your legs as a dude can get a bottle in your face—but because one person’s negative experience was billed as an example of universal social injustice. That’s what people are upset about: how people were rallied behind a lie that only served to hurt feelings and momentarily scuff the good name of the tolerance movement.
The next time around: make sure you’re consistent. If you have a blog, update it when you change your plans so that people don’t keep hating on the old version. Get the truth out there first, “warts and all”, and stick to it, and people will respect you for it. If your goal is to engender tolerance, be tolerant of those that you’re working against. And make sure you’re checking your privilege. If you’re fighting the good fight, you had better fight clean.
One last thing. We’ve had the “dialogue debate” and now Queerin’ Putnam. I can’t take much more of this malarky. So be a good bunch of historians and learn from what we all did well and what we goofed on, so that next time something blows up, we aren’t starting from square one. I’ve considered disabling comments for this post – if SkidmoreUnofficial.com ever had a dead horse, this topic is it – but we’re all friends now, anyway.