Spectators come to athletic events under the assumption of safety – they’re just the fans, with no pads in their jerseys. But at Virginia games the hurt makes its way from the field to the stands. The practice of inserting “not gay” into the “Good Ol’ Song” has receded and returned at our University like the wave in a timeless stadium. Student Council unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday disparaging such bigotry, and it’s worth revisiting why this jeer has got to go before future classes must atone for our negligence.
Students are briefed on this issue during orientation or their first game in the fall. To capsulize, in case anyone missed it: during the caesura after the lyric “We come from old Virginia/Where all is bright and gay” the tired habit is to shout “not gay,” creating a sense of inclusiveness for the brutally intolerant who think LGBTQ communities don’t belong here vis-à-vis the rest of us. Surrogate words have been proposed, campaigns initiated and stickers passed out but the words keep coming back.
Council’s resolution seems like another silent shot in the back-and-forth cannonade just as this editorial is merely another editorial on the subject. But this is the only measure we have: In 2010, Dean of Students Allen Groves made necessary improvements to the University’s speech code to ensure students would not be prosecuted for inflammatory speech so long as it’s constitutionally protected. Now students can defend this legitimate cry, which is nevertheless nonsensical and barbaric — see, we can each sling hateful words without getting charged, signed to the tab of things the First Amendment will cover.
So let’s turn to the arguments. Those in favor of chanting “not gay,” including a 2007 guest columnist to The Cavalier Daily, say it represents their objectively incorrect but nevertheless principled views regarding sexual orientation and defends expression from political correctness. Certainly there is a right to be ignorant; to have one’s views and shout them too. But the addition of “not gay” does not even express this. It says only that Virginia isn’t gay — which isn’t true, given demographics and the fact that a Charlottesville Pride Festival happened Saturday. “Not gay” is also not funny or clever or in any way cool.
Even after all these years, what the phrase remains is pretty hurtful. It ostracizes students, embarrasses the school and is downright oppressive whether blared by hundreds or just a few. The expression is factually, morally and in all senses wrong; it’s been a burden for both the chanters and listeners.
Obviously the shouting match hasn’t worked: Although we applaud Council for its condemnation, the phrase has such a history that it’s easy to become cynical about whether the public can cease it. Of course, no one can stop it save individuals. The people still shouting “not gay” should realize the weight of a slur. We will just ask they think a little harder before saying it next time — there’s no need to yell.