Last Sunday, Harvard College Queer Students & Allies (QSA) announced that it would “remain politically neutral on issues that do not effect LGBTQ+ people explicitly because of their queer identity.” Shortly afterward, many students began to support a petition intended to reverse this policy.
The petition makes two main arguments. Firstly, it points out that the decision-making process was sudden and undemocratic. According to the petition, only 15 members of the QSA contributed to the vote. This objection is reasonable: a decision of this magnitude likely should have involved more discussion, and the QSA’s intention to debate this statement at Sunday’s meeting should have been more transparent. The second—and more substantive— objection is that the neutrality policy denies intersectionality. The petition reads, “It is impossible to disconnect queerness and its oppressions from other identities or forms of oppression”
At first glance, it may seem that QSA’s neutrality policy rejects the premise that intersectionality is important. As the petition points out, the neutrality statement would prevent QSA from taking a stance on the wage gap, Black Lives Matter, and the HUDS strike. To many students, a neutral stance on these issues implies that QSA does not care about diversity, inclusion, and the queer people who suffer from oppression. The QSA responded to these claims in a clarification email: “We acknowledge that the spectrum of identities held by LGBTQ+ students is both massive and beautiful, and we aim to preserve a safe space for all students in all of their identities.” In fact, QSA claims that its neutrality policy will make QSA a safer and more inclusive space. This writer agrees.
A Safe Space (For People Like Me)
The petition seems to make a dangerous assumption: in order to show that you care, you have to support specific policy proposals and specific organizations. The problem with this reasoning is that the policy proposals and specific organizations in question are often highly complicated and controversial. For instance, many people recognize that black lives matter—and deeply care about racism and police brutality in America— but oppose the group Black Lives Matter. It may be the case that these people oppose its disruptive protest tactics or parts of its broad policy demands (for instance, it calls for the US military budget to be cut by 50 percent). In other words, you can support BLM’s cause, but not its approach. The same reasoning can be applied to the wage gap, and even to the HUDS strike. There are plenty of compassionate, well-intentioned people on all sides of these issues.
However, it is rather likely that the majority of QSA members at Harvard supports Black Lives Matter, opposes the wage gap, and supports the HUDS strike. Why, then, should the organization as a whole remain neutral? If the organization were to take politicized stances on these (or other) controversial issues, this writer believes that certain queer students would feel invalidated and alienated. If the QSA seeks to be a “safe space for all queer and questioning students regardless of their backgrounds or ideologies” (quoted from the official QSA clarification email), taking political stances would send a harmful signal to those who don’t agree with those political claims.
The debate over QSA’s neutrality adds new questions to a larger conversation about safe spaces, sensitivity, tolerance, and political alienation. What happens when students feel unsafe in neutral spaces? What happens when students believe that the only people who possess empathy and compassion are those who share their opinions of political movements? The petition argues that neutrality threatens “people’s safety and inclusion.” I argue that endorsing a position would pose a greater threat to the safety and inclusion of those who hold minority opinions. For instance, Conor Healy ’19 commented, “I’ve never felt that LGBT organizations on campus were welcoming to me because of my libertarian beliefs, and general issues with the social justice scene … The QSA decision makes me feel a lot safer on campus, and much more likely to reach out.”
Queer people should be allowed to be libertarians. Queer people should be allowed to say #AllLivesMatter. Queer people should be allowed to be anti-feminists. Queer people should be allowed to take unpopular political views. An organization that invalidates these views should not claim to be a truly safe space.
Politics is Unsafe
Not all organizations should strive to be safe spaces. There is a case to be made that there should be a queer students organization that actively takes stances on political issues. Many students believe that neutrality serves the side of the oppressor, and there is ample motivation for political activism. Students who seek to organize politically may wish to consider the Institute of Politics, the Harvard College Democrats, the Harvard Republican Club, the Phillips Brooks House Association, and QSA’s various subcommittees.
If these existing groups are unsatisfying, perhaps it is time for Harvard students to create a new activist organization that spearheads causes relating to identity. Such a group could decide to advocate for BLM, equal pay legislation, queer issues, and all sorts of intersectional causes. If it does, it should not brand itself as a safe space for people of all political identities. There exists an inherent conflict between a political space and a safe space. The more inclusive a space wishes to be, the less liberty it has to take controversial political stances. If QSA wishes to remain the safe space for queer-identifying students of all political identities, its neutrality policy is essential.