College Republicans’ Posters Lead To Controversy

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

A recent series of fliers advertising Swarthmore’s newly formed Campus Republicans ignited controversy when they used phrases on their posters such as “Coming Out? Questioning? Join the College Republicans!”: language traditionally used by the Queer community. In response, a group of students posted additional fliers condemning the “misappropriation” and “parodying” of queer language. The responders chose to remain anonymous because they did not want their message to be dismissed based on their authorship.

The anonymous responders posted their initial fliers on Wednesday, February 13th. According to Shane Breitenstein ’08, a member of the Swarthmore Queer Union (SQU) and one of the students responsible for the response fliers, their fliers were taken down the next morning and replaced by even more College Republican posters. These College Republicans fliers were supplemented by other fliers asking to be not taken down, out of respect for free speech. The “anonymous” group responded again with a new set of posters, which they claim were taken down again by Sunday night. This statement exchange has spurred an exchange of diverse viewpoints but also caused some tensions.

Justin Shaffer ’08, president of the College Republicans, was inspired to use “coming out” phrases after learning about “Conservative Coming Out Weeks” on other college campuses. Such terminology has become popularized among conservative student groups, as liberal viewpoints in academia have trampled over the right of speech for conservative students, said Shaffer, emphasizing that Swarthmore especially is dominated by a liberal culture. As a result, he believes “coming out” is necessary for conservative students.

“Sadly,” in his experience Swarthmore’s “environment seems to only accept and promote the ideas of secular liberalism that dominate the campus almost exclusively,” said Shaffer. “My personal favorite is when people at Swarthmore will describe someone as Republican as though he/she has some deep character flaw. ‘Wait, you’re a Republican!'”

Despite Shaffer’s justification, some members of the Queer community were offended by the attempt to equate the difficulties of being gay with the difficulties of being conservative. “Historically, it’s not been not okay for people to come out,” said Breitenstein, and to use it flippantly is offensive.

Rafael Zapata, Assistant Dean and Director of the Intercultural Center, noted that this problem generally arises when one group appropriates the language of another. “[Appropriation] usually is devoid of the social and historical context,” he said.

However, Geek Coming Out Week has traditionally parodied slogans from Queer Coming Out Week without evoking such responses, leading Shaffer to believe the responders were specifically against the Republican party. Sebastian Duncan ’08, a SQU member, admitted the authorship of the posters by the Republican party was significant in the implications of their language. “The Republican party has created conditions under which coming out is very scary for people. That’s what makes it wrong.”

Zapata shared similar sentiments, saying that “College Republicans are affiliated with a greater organization that uses homophobia to engage in cultural wars which has been successful as a political tactic, but deeply bruising to the queer community.” Even though the College Republicans may not have adopted the homophobic agenda of the national party, it does not mitigate the group’s usage of the language.

Rafael [last name removed] ’09, a gay student who is also a member of the College Republicans, disagrees. He said that it was important, firstly, to distinguish between the beliefs of the campus group and the national party. “I would never say that the Campus Democrats believe something because I heard Obama say it the other day,” he explained.

“On this campus there is a group of homosexuals who subscribe to a victim mentality.”– Rafael ’09

While responses against the Republican fliers have significant support base, according to Breitenstein, there have been schisms of opinions even within the gay community.

Rafael ’09 believes the flier war is an issue overblown. “On this campus there is a group of homosexuals who subscribe to a victim mentality. Every month it’s a new crisis and usually, it’s something they’ve created, like the [Queer Coming Out Week] chalkings.”

The schisms of opinions extended beyond the involved parties, as evidenced both on the Daily Jolt, an online Swarthmore forum, and on this publication. Several posts accused the response posters of acting like “P.C. Police,” which irritated Duncan. “People don’t realize that there are cultural markers all over the place that reinforce and delegitimize queer people,” he said. “We chose to fight on this issue because it was happening in a very obvious way, but if we were the PC police, there would be a hell of a lot more fliers.”

Nonetheless, Rafael ’09 feels that such responses to the Republican posters were unwarranted, given the progressive nature of Swarthmore. “Swat is such an accommodating place. Everyone you meet will bend-over backwards to tell you that they are not homophobes,” he said.

Zapata cautioned, however, that Swarthmore has a unique environment. “Being a Republican, or being gay — these identities are not confined to Swarthmore,” he explained. “They go beyond this community. And maybe it’s easier to be gay at Swat, but Swat is a unique place…we are part of a broader space in which that is not always the case.”

Ultimately, questions of which identity is more victimized on campus has limited utility. Zapata believes that it is important for groups like the Campus Republicans to engage in a dialogue about their relationship with the queer community. “We need to think about questions like what is the role of this particular group of College Republicans. How does this group feel about the role of the Republican Party and its stance on issues on people who are not heterosexual, on issues that are important to queer people?” he explained.

Despite the tensions on all sides, both groups expressed a desire for dialogue. SQU plans to hold open meetings on these topics, with explicit invitations to the College Republicans; the College Republicans hope to hold Ring discussions.

Some misspellings of names have been corrected since publication.
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  1. 0
    e says:

    richard dawkins also talks about atheists ‘coming out’ in his book The God Delusion, and not being afraid to call themselves atheists. while i agree the republican’s choice of words was poor, the fact is that the term ‘coming out’ has proved powerful and helpful to the queer community and it thus other groups may attempt to harness this, though i agree it carries higher significance for the queer community

  2. 0
    anonymous says:


    can see how the “battles” may seem small, but they affect a portion of the population. The “Peter-gate” was not just against PETER, but against the lack of awareness/ignorance that ALL of the candidates demonstrated toward minorities on campus (be they sexual or ethnic/cultural). How were they planning to engage the cultural groups if at all? We were trying to let them know that we ARE a presence on campus and that our interests should also be addressed.

    I hate to get into another chalkings debate, but the chalkings are meant to provoke. They are meant to show expressions of intimacy that are not normally present in the media or in the larger world. Admittedly, they do get very vulgar, but I believe the point behind the vulgarity is to get people to reconfigure their notions about sex and morality.

    And regarding violence (cultural or physical) against queers on campus, this definitely happens. It happens in class when heterosexist ideas are continually pushed on us, it happens when two men making out in Olde Club are told to “go somewhere else,” which, by the way, would not have happened a few years ago. That makes me really upset. Other people were making out (heterosexual couples) and nothing was said to them. What the hell?

    “But the response to it, which implicitly assumes that the members of the College Republicans at Swarthmore are party-line homophobes and maliciously targeted gays with this poster”–This has been reiterated so many times, but I’ll say it again. The larger institution of the Republican party supports heterosexist agendas which place people outside of the dominant group on the margins. I deon’t doubt that the College Republicans are very respectful of homosexuality in general, but the way in which policies supported by the Republican PARTY (not College Republicans, but the party) emphasize a compulsory heterosexuality affects us whether we are in Swarthmore or not.

    Also, your interpretation of a “postqueer” world seems to be one in which homosexuality is “normalized,” which is something that many people would disagree with. When “equality” is preached and a normalizing agenda emerges, the marginalized groups must aquiesce with the dominant group (in general, this dominant group is composed of straight, white, upper/upper-middle class males). For someone who identifies as none of those, it’s an insult to my identity to have to conform to that.

  3. 0
    a queer dem ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    As a very liberal and queer person I never thought I’d see the day that I was defending republicans at Swat (sorry republican friends, but I really do disagree with almost every substantial issue) but the offense at their poster is simply astonishing and baseless. While the experience of offense is certainly genuine I have to question the appropriateness of that offense. I found the posters funny and harmless.

    There is nothing that makes queer people have exclusive ownership of the phrase coming out. Although an earlier comment (on a different DG article) made the argument that it would be horrible for the KKK to come to swat and use “I have a dream” that isn’t an appropriate comparison. The republican’s aren’t saying “come out and kick out all the gay people,” they’re saying “come out and be republicans openly.” While being gay and being republican certainly aren’t the same thing it is certainly appropriate to say that republicans are more socially and politically isolated on campus than queer people. To urge republicans to come out is certainly an okay thing to say. It also isn’t limited to Swarthmore, just two days ago I read a New York Times article where a disgruntled liberal person in Connecticut said that Liberman should just “come out” as a republican.

    I don’t doubt that isolated acts of victimization against queer people do happen on campus, however I think that queer people as a whole are very accepted here; it’s simply the reality. Simply because some isolated events make queer people feel unsafe doesn’t deny the right of anyone other than queer people using queer language.

    Additionally although the queer community at Swat is hardly monolithic it can sometimes feel that way and it is very good at appearing to create controversies. I know of many straight friends who feel victimized during the coming out week chalkings and I think that it is impossible for queer people to feel victimized by the republican’s posters without acknowledging that they make other people victimized by similar actions. Additionally, the only time that I have felt bad or prejudiced because of my queer identity at Swarthmore was during the coming out week chalkings when I expressed my opposition to some of them. I think it is sad that at a place like Swat the only time I feel like a bad person for being queer is by the queer community itself (or at least the vocal elements of it).

    The debate that we’re having now is tankfully much healthier than many debates have been in the past. While I’m not questioning anyone’s experience of being offended at the republican posters I would like to encourage them to many find it within themselves to have less of a knee-jerk reaction and to be less prejudiced. If you ask it of the rest of the world you should also ask it of yourself.

  4. 0
    Rafael says:

    Point taken on the minimizing of your experience. I’m sorry.

    But queer people are most certainly not attacked every time they bring up something political on campus. The only times that there has been controversy around queer issues have been Chalkingsgate, Petergate, Flyergate and the Sex Worker’s “Arts” Showgate… and if that’s “queer politics” I’m not so sure I want in it. I share the sentiments behind that sort of political activism, but I will boldly say that, on this campus, right now, we need to toughen up and pick our battles.

    BTW, I don’t see how this challenges my commitment to multiculturalism, unless there’s a “gay culture” out there that I’m not aware of that I’m supposed to be a foot soldier for. And sticking my neck out and saying that these “controversies” are unnecessary, petty, and severely counterproductive confirms my commitment to furthering the social acceptance of queer people, not the other way around.

  5. 0
    ArgosTheLemon says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only person on this campus who thinks SQU has a serious victim mentality, self-pitying problem. Thanks, republican person whose name I’ve forgotten.

  6. 0
    Rafael is a jerk says:

    Rafael, how dare you decide what does and does not count as victimization. I was personally involved with the frat instance of which this student spoke and it was shocking, and we did feel like our physical safety was going to be jeopardized. I don’t care how involved you are with the Republican party, or how much you think this is not an important issue to be discussing, you have absolutely no right to take somebody else’s negative experience and tell them that it didn’t happen. If you personally haven’t experienced any victimization at Swarthmore, then perhaps you’re lucky. Maybe the memo you got circulated amongst the wrong exclusive group (i.e. maybe the pity party has something to be pitiful about!!!!).

    And in reference to your assertion that Tatiana & Co. bring it [victimization] on themselves–I’ve never heard anything more preposterous. Nearly every time queer people bring up something political, they ARE attacked. If you can’t see that, I feel very sorry for you and can’t even begin to understand how you could be committed to multiculturalism and change with ridiculous statements like these (wait, maybe you’re not, since you’re a Republican).

  7. 0
    Lucas Sanders says:

    I also congratulate the Daily Gazette for their superlative coverage in this article.

    In response to today’s guest opinion pieces, I posted requests for either side to post the exact text of their back-and-forth posters. After reading the comments here, though, I’m re-thinking that request. While I would more than welcome having enough information to actually figure out what I think about the posters, it looks like we’re increasingly talking past each other with the recurring arguments that tend to be vented toward the end of Coming Out Week. I refrained from public comment then because I thought the discussion became massively counterproductive; maybe I should disengage from the public conversation now, too.

    ‘Tis a pity. I’d hoped that the emergence of this controversy after working through our emotions during the fall’s Coming Out Week might have created a space for this campus to have a more reflective conversation about the bounds of appropriate behavior and the current state of Swarthmore’s queer community. Instead, we’re on the brink of a flame war.

  8. 0
    Rafael says:

    “That is the craziest most regresive thing I’ve ever heard since being at Swarthmore.”

    And to think it had to come from an openly (and comfortably) gay man. It demonstrates just how low the level of discourse on the issue has been brought to on this campus by these endless charades.

    The “Coming Out Week” chalkings? I think we can all agree that if the chalkings had actually all been “public affirmations of queer love” (like “the victim” wrote above) there wouldn’t have been an issue; in fact, the vast majority on this campus would have actually appreciated the act. Instead, the chalkings (most of them done by a small group of people–the characters never change, it seems) have in recent years included an egregious number of utterly unrelated and wildly inappropriate drawings of genitals and vulgar phrases and iconoclastic imagery and–well, you really HAD to be there to know just how bizarre of a “gesture” towards the “others” the chalkings were, when viewed as a whole. Too bad–it could have actually been meaningful and productive… assuming that that’s what they were aiming for. And to think that the ones behind it kept pushing the issue forward as a legitimate controversy when the much-preached-to choir’s reactions to the chalkings varied from being seriously creeped out to being seriously offended. At Phoneathon, a fellow caller once called a minister alumni who said he would never give another dime to Swarthmore because of the offensive and “disturbing” chalkings he saw on his last visit. Great going, guys.

    And then, the Peter Gardner debacle. The whole thing was an embarrassment. Since then, I met the guy and, shocking shocking, he actually IS an ally, at least if our friendship is any indication. Did the instigators of this “debate” just assume he wasn’t? Why? Why didn’t the “offended” minorities just run against him, if he so miserably failed on their non-W.A.S.P. litmus test for the office of the Student Council President? We’ll never know.

    But Flyergate… Flyergate takes the cake. The “offense” taken to these posters may, as a bit of a stretch, be justified giving the late tendencies of Republican leadership to use gay marriage as a cause célèbre to rally the Evangelical base. But the response to it, which implicitly assumes that the members of the College Republicans at Swarthmore are party-line homophobes and maliciously targeted gays with this poster… it would be funny if they weren’t being so earnest… or if they weren’t emailing every campus listserve in existence. I’m gay and a registered Republican because my political ideology is more closely aligned with the party’s. I’ve been to College Republican meetings. I’m good friends with the guys who put the poster up. Trust me on this–homosexuality isn’t high on the group’s agenda, if it’s there at all.

    Sorry guys, but someone has to say it. To the leadership of the gay groups on campus: be less reactionary. If stirring up these “controversies” is how you think you’re helping us queer people enter a postqueer world, then “no, thanks.”

  9. 0
    Rafael says:

    Being gay is neither as extraordinary nor as controversial as some gays at Swarthmore would like to think it is.

    Quite frankly I find that the assertion that gays on campus are victimized holds very little water. If the examples of victimization cited above by “the victim” are the best that the pity brigade can come up with, we’ve definitely come a long way. Too bad a small but vocal minority of gays on campus never got the memo.

    The worst part is that as long Tatiana and co. keep crying wolf over nonissues (remember Chalk-gate? Peter-gate? [you know, the guy who had the AUDACITY to want to be our Student Council President while also being a straight white male] And now Flyer-gate?) the next time that a real act of victimization against gays takes place on campus, nobody will care.

    The magic’s in the numbers, folks. Look at the results of the poll at the bottom of the page. The verdict is in: this “controversy” is “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

  10. 0
    AD ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I would just like to note that the add on top of this page (at least on my screen, anyway) was paid for by the John McCain 2008 campaign.

    Ironic choice of advertisements?

  11. 0
    Victim Mentality? says:

    That is the craziest most regresive thing I’ve ever heard since being at Swarthmore.

    The scary thing is that people actually believe that.

  12. 0
    Hell, the what says:

    although I do agree with the statement just made, it should be understood that “queer” does not just denote being gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc. Queer means “different” and reveling in that difference, which would include gender, sexual orientation, class, race, etc. Just thought I’d put that out there before people started believing that being queer means reducing yourself to a single-unitary subjectivity.

  13. 0
    Yet What? says:

    What gives a particular group of persons the exclusive right to language and terminology? Time after time, all it does is draw more attention to the differences between people, enforces the separation of people into identity categories by saying, “This ONE thing is who we are. Our group is different, is special, demands recognition of the fact. We are proud not of who we are, but our ability TO ACCEPT OUR OWN IDENTITY. We are legitimate.” Again and again, what we end up seeing are individuals taking up one characteristic that defines them and blowing that up into their identity as a whole, instead of putting it into the perspective of the many things that define them. People need to start thinking about this.

  14. 0
    Liberal Masshole says:

    It’s good to know that even if the current societal status quo was reversed, with homosexuals in positions of comfort and security and republicans demonized and marginalized, that the grand old tradition of hypocrisy and thought-policing would simply pass onto the new majority.

    Switch the nouns “homosexual” and “Republican” and the term “Coming Out” with “Marriage.” Sound familiar? It’s like a Bizarro version of the argument that’s going on right now on a larger scale. Aren’t we supposed to be better than that?

    Group A disagrees with Group B. Group A criticizes Group B’s “appropriation” of a term previously used only by Group A. Group A is now the victim because they are “under attack” from the people in Group B, the dirty word-thieves. Second verse, same as the first.

  15. 0
    the victim says:

    thank you Rafael: queer people do create their own victimization – thanks for pointing that out. It isn’t the fact that queer safe space signs have been burned off dorm doors,; it isn’t the fact that when two queer people walk by Phi Psi they get “MAUL THEM” yelled at them and quickly evade the situation; it isn’t the fact that unless we draw it explicitly on the side walks we wouldn’t see public affirmations of queer love. So thank you for pointing out that queer people turn themselves into victims because I didn’t realize it; maybe it would be better to shut up, let people assume we are straight and remain in the closet – maybe then the victimization would end.

  16. 0
    PV ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    This seems like a fair take on the topic – congrats DG for handling it well. Personally, I feel like both groups involved have merit in their reasoning, but neither of their actions based on that reasoning was appropriate. In fact, I would argue that it was thoroughly opposed to any values of open-mindedness or discussion we try to learn at Swarthmore. Having seen what students at this college have degenerated to, I almost wonder if I’m still in the right place, if here, just like everywhere else, I am surrounded by people who deliberately blind themselves and then strike out in irrational rage, and if it is simple prejudice and inherited hatred that carry the day.

    Bravo, Swarthmore. No encore, please.

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