Madi Howard, co-chair of the Queer Community Coalition, talks about the bond between queer students at CC, visibility, ‘Blue is the Warmest Color,’ lesbians in the media, and what the climate is like for a queer person at Colorado College.
Questions and answers are edited for brevity and clarity.
How do you like being the co-chair of the Queer Community Coalition?
I am very excited about the upcoming semester. I think we’ve changed our focus a lot to creating a greater queer community within the group across campus before trying to do too much outreach, and we’re working to establish a physical queer space on campus where kids can go hang out.
Do you think queer students have a lot of visibility on campus?
It’s hard for us to have any kind of visibility when the number of out kids on campus is so low, and I think part of that is about fostering an environment among the whole student body where people all along the spectrum are able to come out and express their sexualities in a different way from how they are now.
What do you think about the posters made for QCC and the emphasis on the spectrum of sexuality?
I’m actually really pleased with it, and I hope at the very least it got people thinking about it, if not started a conversation. I know some people who were featured on the posters came up to me and told me that kids have been asking them about it. I think it’s a really important conversation to start on campus because I think even though there isn’t necessarily open discrimination against the gay kids on campus, I don’t think anyone really talks about their sexuality in terms of the spectrum. People are either like, ‘I’m straight or I’m gay.’ Before queer kids on campus are going to stop feeling marginalized, people need to recognize that we’re all on the same spectrum and not in separate boxes.
Who do you think was the best advocate for the queer community in 2013?
OK, maybe not the biggest advocate, but obviously people paid the most attention to Macklemore’s “Same Love,” which is a little bit irritating for a lot of people like, “We don’t need a straight man to speak about gay rights.” But I feel like this year was a really great year for the emergence of so-called “queer artists” like Angel Haze and Le1f and Mykki Blanco. I feel like they started to garner a lot more attention than they had in the past. Apart from the fact that they’re categorized as gay artists, they’re really great music producers.
What are some goals that the QCC has for next semester?
We want to emphasize that we’re trying to build community within the queer students on campus. We’re also trying to make that QCC community open to the whole student body or to anyone who’s not even questioning themselves but has questions about what it’s like to be a queer student on campus or has friends who are queer.
What do you think about the movie “Blue is the Warmest Color?”
Oh God. I really didn’t like it. Some people get really upset with me for that, but I hated it. I think part of it was the expectation I came in with because there was so much buildup about this incredible lesbian film, and yes there was a lesbian relationship featured in the film, but it was a straight man’s perspective of what that’s going to be, and I feel like it was, even like the sex scene, this straight man’s view of these two girls. I think the queer community really reacted to it because it got all this attention, and even if it is a straight man’s perspective of this hypothetically lesbian story. I think because there is so little queer visibility in mainstream media that queer women were able to stretch themselves to relate to it because everything else they see is such a far cry from what they know.
What do you think about the queer community’s relationship with straight performers like Macklemore or straight filmmakers like Ang Lee who made “Brokeback Mountain” with two straight actors? Or Abdellatif Kechiche who made “Blue is the Warmest Color” with two straight actresses? Is the visibility more important than an accurate representation of queer life?
That is hard. I would rather have straight actresses portraying these roles than have absolutely no lesbian characters in any film, but that being said, it’s not like there aren’t talented queer actors in the community. When we’re only starting to have this kind of visibility in the media, why not? I was watching this video where 30 or so people were asked to name three out lesbians in the media who weren’t Ellen DeGeneres or Portia de Rosse, and only one person could do it.
I think something that I’ve seen a lot in the news is people asking straight actors, “What’s it like/was it hard to play a gay character?” but I’ve never heard a gay person asked what it’s like to play a straight person. What do you think about that?
I think it’s still such a thing when someone comes out. It’s like, “Oh we’re so accepting,” but it’s still newsworthy. Part of that is annoying, but I also think it’s so important because when I grew up it was hard enough for me to find strong female role models let alone lesbian role models let alone lesbian role models that didn’t play to this really extreme masculine stereotype.
What is the climate for a queer person at Colorado College?
I would say that I think it’s the same way for a lot of the minorities on campus because there isn’t a lot of overt discrimination. People just like to shove the issue under the rug and take things at face value, and I think a lot of things go unnoticed. That’s part of what’s difficult about being queer at CC or being a racial minority. These issues are really only being discussed by those who are directly effected by it. It makes it that much harder to open up that conversation when there’s no queer voice at OMIS events like courageous conversations and also basically the entire audience was all members of the OMIS community.
I think that it’s hard to talk about discrimination because it’s hard to relay how marginalizing it can feel even when people aren’t being outwardly homophobic. But someone called me “Gay Brooks,” which was almost more painful than someone calling me a fag because that was my only defining characteristic. How do you tell someone that’s offensive or hurtful and make them care about it?
I know there are a lot of queer kids who have left CC because they feel like there’s no support in the face of the shit they get from the few intolerant students on campus, but it’s also like a different kind of discrimination. It would be like if people would come up to me and ask me if I would have a threesome because I’m hooking up with another girl. It’s the entitlement people feel to lesbian sexuality and their inability to take it seriously that’s really frustrating. Or like you said that’s my defining characteristic like, “Oh yeah this is my lesbian friend.”
There’s a way to be sensitive to other people, but we can try and avoid that overly political correctness that makes people feel so uncomfortable any of these issues. I know there are so many students on campus that are wrestling with some kind of sexuality/identity crisis, and they don’t necessarily feel like they have anyone to talk to about that because there is so little gay visibility on campus or the visibility they see may seem unapproachable, but I know you and myself and a lot of other people in the community are dying to have that communication.