Virginia Tech massacre’s invisible gay angles

Perhaps enough time has passed since the Virginia Tech massacre that we can scratch the surface a tad and look at both the real and imagined gay angles of the story. Perhaps now we can mourn our losses, celebrate our heroes, and yes, even look at the killer himself, Cho Seung-Hui.

Blacksburg, Va., is in the Bible Belt where being Southern by birth and Christian by the grace of God is a badge of honor. And any outward signs of gayness are suppressed not only by the culture, but also by LGBTQ people themselves. For example, when Washington Blade reporter Lou Chibbaro inquired if there were any LGBTQ students and professors killed in the massacre, Curtis Dahn, president of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Alliance of Virginia Tech, said, “Some were queer, and others were straight allies. The GLBT community at Tech grieves in the same way as others – deeply and as part of a greater whole …[the tragedy is] not a gay thing; it’s an everybody thing.”

And because it is an “everybody thing” is precisely why it is important to know.

As with our fallen LGBTQ sheroes and heroes of 9/11 and this never-ending war, many of us in the queer community, myself included, would not only like to celebrate our fallen in the Virginia Tech massacre for being courageously out of the closet, but also to show America that we too are everywhere in the human drama of life.

But instead we were made invisible. And in so doing, America missed not only the opportunity to recognize those of us who have fallen in this tragedy, but also to recognize those of us who have risen heroically.

Case in point: Nikki Giovanni, a neglected and overlooked heroine in our queer community. The recipient of 25 honorary degrees, the Langston Hughes Medal for Poetry, and the first recipient of the Rosa L. Parks Woman of Courage Award, Giovanni is a world-renowned poet, writer, commentator, activist, University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech, and an out African-American lesbian. At the Virginia Tech convocation commemorating the Virginia Tech massacre, Giovanni closed the ceremony with her electrifying speech, “We are Virginia Tech!” “We are strong, and brave, and innocent, and unafraid. We are better than we think and not quite what we want to be. We are alive to the imaginations and the possibilities. We will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears and through all our sadness.

“We are the Hokies.

“We will prevail.

“We will prevail.

“We will prevail.

“We are Virginia Tech.”

And Giovanni was the first to alert school authorities about Cho’s menacing behavior in her poetry class two years ago. When Giovanni approached the English department chair to have Cho expelled from her class, Giovanni said she would rather resign than continue teaching him. Depicting Cho as “a bully,” Giovanni told the Washington Post, “Kids write about murder and suicide all the time. But there was something that made all of us pay attention closely. His was more sinister. None of us were comfortable with that. … Once I realized my class was scared, I knew I had to do something.”

Cho’s writings were disturbing, suggesting his own sexual confusion, and misinformation about queer sexuality. In a play he wrote entitled, “Richard McBeef,” he depicts a scene of a frightened female character running from a stalker saying, “Are you a bisexual psycho rapist murderer! Please stop following me. Don’t kill me!” Female Virginia Tech students complained to campus police about Cho’s annoying phone calls, instant messages, and surprise visits to their dorm rooms.

And in the same play, Cho depicts a scene of a Catholic pedophiliac priest: “What are you, a Catholic priest! I will not be molested by an aging balding overweight pedophiliac stepdad named Dick! Get your hands off me you sicko!”

Newspaper tabloids like the National Enquirer had a field day queering the story, stating that Cho was a closeted homosexual who spent his weekends traveling to Backstreet Cafe, a gay bar nearby Roanoke, and “was rejected by a man and died a virgin.”

On CNN, the topic on “Anderson Cooper 360″ one night was “Missed Signals in Virginia Tech Massacre? What Sent Virginia Tech Shooter Over the Edge?” Cooper broached the topic by asking forensic psychiatrist Helen Morrison about Cho’s writings. She said, “There seemed to be sort of an obsession with the debauchery, the hedonism of other people. He seemed to need to prove his masculinity a lot.”

Morrison stated that by Cho “focus[ing] on the sexuality of females, [he] was only masking what appears to have been a tremendous fear that he was not truly attracted to females.”

Queer voices being absent in the story about Cho is like our faces and heroism being erased from the event. Have we become so mainstream or homophobic that we also decided not to queer the story? There are many gay angles to this story. But the most conspicuously absent one came from us. •

Published 5/10/07 in In Newsweekly. 

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