An optional gender prompt on Colorado College’s online job application that includes the word “queer” has raised questions about the school’s commitment to equal opportunity employment, inciting a national debate about the word’s meaning and connotations.
The three-question optional survey, which asks applicants to identify as “not disclosed, male, female, transgender, or queer,” came as a shock to 66-year-old John Kichi, a freelance writer from outside of Pittsburgh, Penn., who was applying to be the Director of Internal Communications.
“I was absolutely floored,” Kichi told The Catalyst in a phone interview. “I thought this was a joke. I wondered if they were trying to scare gay people away from even applying.”
Prior to the creation of the survey, Colorado College consulted with a company who recommended “queer” as the choice word because “the climate at most universities has opened up to the point where the term ‘queer’ has grown in acceptance,” according to the Denver Post.
The Post ran a story voicing Kichi’s concerns, which were amplified when he reportedly filed a complaint with Colorado Attorney General John Suther’s office. Media outlets throughout the country reproduced that Post article, inciting both approval and disapproval countrywide.
Brett Gray, Colorado College’s LGBTQ Student Specialist, affirmed that the meaning of “queer” is not what it used to be.
“Queer is a space for someone who doesn’t identify with a strict gender or sexual binary,” Gray said. “It’s an empowering identity that doesn’t come with all of the strings attached to more definitive terms.”
Marley Jamason, a member of Queer CC, CC’s student LGBTQIA+ advocacy group, also believes that queer has taken on a more positive connotation in recent years.
“People have taken queer back into their own hands and made it a positive thing. It’s turning from something that was oppressive to a more empowering term,” Jamason said.
Although Gray stands by queer as an “umbrella term…that has tremendous advantages,” he was sympathetic to Kichi’s reaction.
“To him, this was one of the worst things you could call someone,” Gray said.
“It can be really hard for people to hear that term used, even today, if they’ve had a negative experience with it,” Jamason said.
Although Kichi is aware of the changed meaning of “queer,” he disagrees with its use.
“The 20-somethings who play around with this word do not have the benefit of historical perspective,” he said. “They haven’t been out in the work place and been denied a job. To say that is a very weak and absurd type of reasoning. This word disables people, potentially takes their pride away from them.”
Kichi believes that individuals applying for non-entry level positions, as he was, are of a generation that would consider “queer” a derogatory term.
“I don’t think you’re permitted to use anything but ‘male’ or ‘female’ on an EEOC [Equal Opportunity Employment Commission] page,” he said.
“Someone at your school is sleeping with the new Christian right,” Kichi said. “Any Christian group that tries to change people’s behavior based on religion – which is not factual – to me is abominable. Don’t tell me to believe the set of fantasies you believe.”
Although Kichi has no plans to press legal charges, along with his complaint he has contacted the American Civil Liberties Union, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and several Denver-based newspapers about the incident.
The college has apologized to Kichi for the misunderstanding, but has no intention of removing “queer” as a survey option.
According to Gray, the college is considering revising the wording to “gender queer” or including definitions for each designation.
“Our intention is to use this controversy to highlight the need for education and awareness around the term, and to make the argument that this is the best way to be open and inclusive going forward,” said Gray.
Mallory Shipe, Staff Writer