College Democrats at UW-Madison has a long-standing history of organizing and progressivism that has led to numerous successful elections at the local, state and federal level. But this organization that supposedly welcomes diversity has shifted into an exclusive club.
In the College Democrats GroupMe on July 17, a group member mentioned potentially getting food from Chick-fil-A for any member who volunteered to knock on doors with them for the statewide volunteering day of action.
As a bisexual woman, I responded, reminding the chat that Chick-fil-A funnels money directly to anti-LGBTQ+ organizations. According to newly released tax filings, in 2017 alone the Chick-fil-A Foundation donated over $1.8 million to three groups with a clear history of LGBTQ+ discrimination. $1,653,416 was given to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, an organization that mandates that its employees refrain from “homosexual acts.” $150,000 was given to the Salvation Army, which has a long-standing history of discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals and whose media relations director said gay people “deserve death.” Lastly, $6,000 was given to the Paul Anderson Youth Home that teaches same-sex marriage is a “rage against Jesus Christ and His values.”
A response from one of the members was “worth it tho,” which was favorited by the preceding chair of CD and former executive board members. I again reminded the chat that this was not something to joke about and voiced my concern as a member of the LGBTQ+ community by stating, “Like I thought this was College Dems where LGBT folx are celebrated and accepted rather than joked about.”
I was terrified to have received a response that said “We have bigger fights to fight than chick fil a.” Later in the chat, another member wrote, “sorry i forgot im homophobic,” as a joke. This message was favorited by several current members of CD as well.
My sexuality is not something that should be joked about, much less in a GroupMe that organizes around the ideals of acceptance and diversity.
The chair of Young Progressives wrote, “are we not able to crack light hearted jokes in a community that we know cares deeply about our struggle as LGBT+ people.” The issue is, this club has become accepting for white, gay men — but not other members of the queer community. Bi- and trans-phobia are not exclusive to heterosexual individuals and many of the members of the chat who made these comments only prove this point.
I have known numerous individuals who have felt excluded from this organization because they were people of color or identified on the LGBTQ+ spectrum with a sexuality other than gay.
The last message I wrote in the GroupMe reminded these individuals that homophobia is never O.K. and does not have a place in democratic organizing. Although my message wasn’t read until much later in the chat where the current chair took to the LGBTQ+ community's defense after I had contacted her, this message must continue to spread, especially in organizing communities. CD has long struggled to expand its organization and include others, and I hope this message reminds members of how their words can lead to exclusion.
When it comes to LGBTQ+ discrimination, campus leaders must face the issue head-on to create a welcoming space and handle these issues with empathy. But a top-down approach is not enough — every member of a student organization must understand their role in an organization and celebrate the diverse experiences of their peers. Perhaps ongoing trainings or partnering with the Gender and Sexuality Campus Center could be future options for student organizations that want to welcome LGBTQ+ students.
Inclusivity and acceptance are necessary in all conversations and especially in organizing spaces. To fight homophobia and work toward a society in which all people feel accepted, always put your privilege into check and make space to value others’ diverse perspectives.
Anna Barry is a senior studying political science and is also a La Follette accelerated MPA first year. What are your thoughts on College Democrats? Do you think there is exclusivity to the student organization? Send all comments to email@example.com