Is it OK for a mascot to act like a heterosexual male? At Cornell University, the answer appears to be no.
An uproar ensued at the Ivy League institution recently after one of its students was allegedly told that those who wear Cornell’s bear mascot, named Touchdown, must always act like a “heterosexual man” and “approach only women,” the Cornell Daily Sun reports.
Student Samuel Naimi, who recently tried out for the Big Red Bears Club, which selects volunteers to be the mascot, told The Sun that the selection committee was not friendly to Naimi’s self-identified gender-neutrality.
Naimi identifies with the pronoun “they.” According to “they,” “they” felt extremely offended when several members of the selection committee insisted that the mascot exhibit heterosexual mannerisms at games.
“They’re supposed to be representing the diverse Cornell community,” Naimi told The Sun.
According to Naimi, “they” chose to leave when someone made the comment the only time the bear was not a straight male was during “Filthy/ Gorgeous,” an extremely controversial gay-friendly, university-condoned annual sex party.
Naimi says he/she/they felt “marginalized, not being allowed to represent [their] identity,” The Sun reported.
Cornell student Bailey Dineen, vice president of the LGBTQ Student Union and someone who also prefers to go by the pronoun “they,” said hearing about the incident left them feeling infuriated, The Sun reported.
“That just shows how Filthy/Gorgeous is taken by some students. That just says that Filthy/Gorgeous is the only place where it’s ok to be a fag,” Dineen said. “The bear putting on an act is offensive to me.”
So apparently, for those of you trying to follow this logic, if the bear acts gay at a gay-themed event, that’s an insult, but if the bear acts like a heterosexual male at a sporting event, that’s an insult, too.
And so it is on the modern college campus, where a simple comment becomes an explosive issue across campus, with the ever-sensitive LBTQ community taking up arms against what they see as exclusion and heteronormative-ness.
The Big Red Bears Club, while neither confirming nor denying the statement, apologized and promised to keep similar comments for returning in the future.
The article in question has been one of the most-read on the student newspaper’s website since it was published on Oct. 30. A story dubbed “Cornell students demand end to ‘male heterosexual’ Big Red Bear mascot” was picked up by Fox News.
Amidst the uproar and demands for equality and inclusion at Cornell, one letter to the editor in The Sun decried the unfairness and oppressiveness of a heterosexual, male bear mascot:
“The experience of being forgotten is not unfamiliar for those within the LGBTQQIAP+ community. On a daily basis we are affected by and implicated in systems of structural inequalities including heterosexism (a system in favor of opposite-sex relationships that commits bias toward those who deviate from this expectation), misogyny, heteronormativity (norms that dictate linear masculine/feminine gender expressions with male/female bodies), cisnormativity (the assumption that everyone expresses the gender that they were assigned to at birth) and other forms of systemic inequality.
The Sun managed to avoid quoting one student with an opposing viewpoint, but there are those who think this whole thing is ridiculous.
Take a Cornell alum who stated on his blog in response to the letter to the editor:
Oooook, this is a little bit confusing as I’m pretty sure LGBTQQIAP+ is some kind of a coding language I’ve never heard about and I’m not really sure how it applies to Bigredgaybeargate. Also I’m just not sure I can take anything seriously after the words “Touchdown the Bear” have been thrown around so callously.
Others don’t think it’s so funny.
Did you know there is a campus club at Cornell dedicated entirely to attacking heterosexual males? It’s called DASH: Direct Action to Stop Heterosexism. That is its whole goal – to seek out new microaggressions and new forms of alleged oppression to rally against.
Heterosexism, in case you’re wondering, means discrimination or prejudice by heterosexuals against homosexuals, an idea that goes back to the definition of homophobia. The literal definition if homophobia is the fear of people who do not identify as straight.
LGBTQ communities love to throw this insult at people who disagree with them, which negates the seriousness of the word and takes away from the incidents when it actually occurs.
And when it comes to what happened at Cornell, it wasn’t about homophobia. It’s about the reality that most guys like to enjoy a sports game without a smelly, sweaty rug trying to hug them.
Fix contributor Ben Smith is a student at UNC Chapel Hill.