Mosaic / April 9, 2008

creates discussion

Despite the removal of their posters, 40 people, including a few staff and faculty members, attended RiotQueer’s Queer Violence Tour on April 2 with Chris Vargas, 30, and Eric Stanley, 29. The group watched and participated in a question and answer session following their short film “Homotopia,” critiquing homonormativity or the mainstream Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transsexual (GLBT) movement, normativity, capitalism, colonialism, and the state.

“In reality we have no power,” said Stanley. “Our job is to open up conversation. That’s the extent we work for, to get people to have more expansive conversations.”

Three other films were shown: “Portrait of Bonnie” by Jason Michael, a critique on ethnography in film, “By Any Means Necessary” by Jason Wentzky, an AIDS victim’s comparison of the AIDS epidemic to the Holocaust, and “Mentalitet” by Stefan Stojanovski, a film on the Gay Pride Parade and subsequent violence in Belgrade in 2001.

Vargas and Stanley are against the institution of marriage, overturning the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, the capitalist profiteering of AIDS, and the importance of the “coming out story” as a way to normalize gay people for straight people.

Don Blaheta, an assistant professor of computer science, pointed out the hypocrisy of supporting an individual’s right to choose to come out but not their right to choose to be married or join the military. He asked if people who supported the right to join the military and choose to be married are deluded. Vargas and Stanley answered by saying the mainstream LGBT movement is about ideology and not reality and that they are not working in a right and wrong framework but trying to give people a full picture.

“Being a feminist is more important than being a woman,” said sophomore Vicky Daza, defending Vargas’s and Stanley’s position. “It’s similar to, ‘Being radical is more important than sharing identification with other gay people’.”

“We have this idea and you are inherently wrong and you need to change,” said junior Ellie Poley criticizing Vargas’ and Stanley’s position after the presentation. “Which is what right-wing conservatives say about us, and there’s no way to win that unless you’re going to make efforts to be compassionate toward people with different views.”

“Assimilation is a form of violence,” said senior Ellen Vessels after the presentation. “It’s weird how threatened people are by [the idea of anti-marriage] and not by the larger state.”

Senior Rachael Goodman questioned whether they would vote for gay marriage if there was a popular vote. Vargas and Stanley said they would not vote unless the project of citizenship was turned over. Goodman asked if the project was overturned would they vote and their response was that in that case, there would be no marriage.

“If they would have actually answered people’s questions and continued dialogue people wanted to start, then it would have been better,” said senior Brittany Alsot. “Extreme radicalism is too ideal, and you have to work in the patriarchal capitalist structure.”

Vargas’s and Stanley’s criticisms of marriage included the historical meaning of property being transferred through the body of women, the idea that people should have access to healthcare not tied to a state institution, the state’s power to say who’s married, monogamy and assimilating into normative culture.

“Homotopia” was filmed in San Francisco using unpaid actors and a guerilla shot style where Vargas and Stanley did not obtain city ordinances to film, limiting their time, but also reclaiming public spaces for the GLBT community they view as nonexistent. Vargas and Stanley rented and returned props, spending most of their money on feeding the unpaid actors. The actors’ gender and race were undefined, exposing alternative queer identities.

Freshman Devan Bennett asked if the AIDS epidemic is a genocide. Vargas said “By Any Means Necessary” was made in 1994 at the height of the pandemic and nothing was being done.

“It’s the systematic execution of a certain population of people who then and who now are disproportionately affected by AIDS,” said Stanley.

The movie was used to reframe how homophobia functions in society. Vargas is against Project Red, an organization that promotes buying items like red i-pods and Project Red GAP shirts to raise money to fight AIDS in Africa. Vargas views Project Red as making money off of AIDS and Stanley is against corporations making money from medicine. Instead, they believe in free health care.

When asked what progress Vargas and Stanley expected, Stanley said “to do less harm to less amounts of people in the name of progress and capitalist accumulation.”

Stanley also suggested starting on the pragmatic local level. Hesaid that as an activist you should hold the utopia idea in the back of your mind because if you strive for a utopia, you will burn out on activism quickly.

The event, sponsored by RiotQueer, SHAG, APA, the Office of Student Life and Intercultural Life, cost a little over $2,000. Knox College is the smallest of the 30 to 40 schools Vargas and Stanley have been presenting at in over a year and a half.

Alison Ehrhard

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