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ASUA, Likins are missing the point

By Tom Collins
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 4, 1998
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Arizona Daily Wildcat

Tom Collins

There is always a flipside.

For everyone who feels the Monday installment of Jeremy Olson's "Looking for Billy" set the cause of gay rights in Tucson back 26 years with its elementary depiction of homophobic, gun-toting bugs, there is someone who thought the cartoon was a legitimate attempt to expose society's disdain for intimacy in male relationships.

And there was someone else who didn't read it at all.

Cartoonists have a long history of taking artistic risks in pillorying the worst aspects of society and this go-round is no exception.

The strip set off three days of controversy punctuated by a letter from UA President Peter Likins condemning the publication of the work and culminating with the passage of an Associated Student Senate resolution declaring the Arizona Daily Wildcat negligent and insensitive for publishing Olson's work.

Sexuality sanctions

The Senate passed its resolution under false and risky pretenses.

Jacob Rigoli, co-director of ASUA's Bisexual, Gay and Lesbian Association, rose during Wednesday's meeting to tell the Senate it needed to send a message to the community about diversity.

Rigoli, an earnest, sensitive politician, told the Senate that the comic, had it used another epithet, wouldn't have run. He said the editor of the Wildcat said so.

He carried the day. And he cheated.

Editor-in-Chief Zach Thomas' remarks were taken out of context, but he did tell Rigoli that another slur would have received further scrutiny.

What Rigoli didn't tell the Senate is that the situation would be different if Olson were gay.

"It most certainly would have (been)," Rigoli said after the meeting.

Still, Rigoli said that doesn't excuse a Wildcat editorial policy that excludes certain epithets in favor of others - a policy that doesn't exist.

"You can't have that kind of dichotomy," he said.

Unfortunately, the ASUA Senate codified a dichotomy of its own on Wednesday. The circumstances behind the resolution the student government passed indicate that it's OK to say "homo" if you're gay. In effect, we, the students, presume that anyone who uses the word without the disclaimer, "as a gay person," is a homophobe.

Thus, it's not the word "homo" that is at issue, but rather the sexuality of the person using it.

Risky Resolution

Hate speech is wrong.

The resolution states the Wildcat publication "has made a negative impact on our community."

Sen. Maria Rodriguez, sponsor of the measure, rightly pointed out in an interview yesterday that hate speech should not be tolerated on campus, and said that, for her, the sexuality of the author isn't an issue.

Still, Rodriguez said she sees the Senate's action as one that suggests people unify in opposition to hurtful acts.

"I took it personally because it could be any minority, and I'm one twice," Rodriguez said.

In open debate, Rodriguez said the cartoon was "inches away from me being called a 'spic.'"

She continues to imply that not only is a straight man who uses the word "homo" for any reason a gay basher, but a racist to boot.

Nowhere in Olson's cartoon was race ever mentioned. The three insects in the frames were neither white, nor black, nor brown, nor anything but bugs.

For years students have craved a student government that makes statements, that takes stands.

Last year, on issues like affirmative action, the Nike deal, and campus violence and safety, students looked to the government for action.

It never happened.

ASUA Executive Vice President Cisco Aguilar said yesterday he expects this year's Senate to attack issues of importance to students.

Which begs the question: Why start with this one?

When the student government takes it upon itself to censure a publication for printing a legitimate attempt to fight societal prejudices, who's having the negative impact?

When the student government votes to censure a publication at all, it should be very careful.

Questions are begged.

When the student leadership declares someone a bigot for a practical attempt at fighting intolerance, one wonders whether our campus leaders are sending a message of unity and understanding, or one of segregation and fear. Apparently it's easier to kill the messenger.

The Senate, by attacking an artist attempting to shed light on the very real experiences of students and community members at large, has set a dangerous precedent and created a new danger for misinterpretation.

We ought to resist such demagoguery in all its forms.

Poor Presidential Posturing

In his letter dated Sept. 2 and printed below, Likins comes down firmly on the side of the misinterpreters of Olson's comic, suggesting that the cartoon was making light of gay bashing.

Again, the UA community has historically craved a president engaged in campus issues, and now appears to have one.

But why would Likins choose to grandstand about the cartoon, when all sides are calling for a real dialogue on homophobia and violence? Will each art show that comes to campus have to pass the scrutiny of the president's office? What about controversial visiting performers?

Perhaps Likins should appoint a new Vice President for Controversy Avoidance or a campus art censor. Is that institutional advancement?

Again, a dangerous precedent has been set.

There are more important problems facing a campus that has suffered three shootings in the past two years. President Likins, let's talk about violence.

We can, each one of us, come to understand the life experiences of each other person. That much is in us. It is in us, as well, to band together as students to fight institutionalized homophobia and racism. Jeremy Olson is not part of the problem.

Jeremy Olson put himself on the line and the campus leadership slapped him for it.

Tom Collins can be reached via e-mail at

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