By Dan Woog
"We come from old Virginia
Where all is bright and gay.
Let's all join hands and give a yell
For dear old UVA!"
As a college fight song, that's not exactly "Hail to the Victors." It's even less impressive because it's sung to the tune of "Auld Lang Syne." But "The Good Ol' Song" is a tradition at University of Virginia football games. And therein lies a tale.
For years and years - OK, 15 or 20 - Cavalier fans have gleefully shouted "Not gay!" after the second line of the song. Beset by a deep-rooted fear that singing the word "gay" means they are actually homosexual, UVA students and alumni have seized the opportunity to assure fellow fans and televisions audiences that they are as straight as the university's founder, advocate of free speech Thomas Jefferson.
Not everyone in Charlottesville is down with the cheer, of course. This fall, a lead editorial in the student newspaper _The Cavalier Daily_ began: "A missed field goal wasn't the only nauseating thing at last Saturday's football game. Every time the crowd erupted with another jovial rendition of the Good Ol' Song, a few fans invariably shouted 'Not gay!' to announce their bigotry with pride and purpose. This gross display of backward, vulgar immaturity should stop."
The editorial explained that the chant reinforced a perception of the University of Virginia as an "unfriendly place for certain minorities." Besides being offensive, it was "not exactly a glowing advertisement for the supposed 'Public Ivy.'"
Three weeks later, at a home game against Wake Forest University, a group of UVA students distributed stickers inscribed "Where all is bright and gay." An accompanying letter explained that the "Not gay!" cheer "lends community support to harassment, violence, and bigotry," and may exacerbate feelings of discomfort in an already marginalized group.
Wyatt Fore, co-chair of the Minority Rights Coalition, noticed a "remarkable drop" in the number of "Not gay!" participants at the Wake Forest game. "If you see people wearing these stickers, you realize, well, there are lots of people around me who don't say it," he noted. "It makes you think and have that conversation with yourself - 'Why do I say it?'"
But every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and a dissenting view soon appeared in the _Cavalier Daily_. First-year student Alex Cortes' op-ed piece, titled "Not gay and proud of it," stated: "Some call it a drunken joke while others refer to its adherents as homophobes. Unfortunately, in doing so, this University has completely disregarded the religiously and politically-minded like myself who say the chant out of disgust for the gay lifestyle and support for our natural heterosexuality given to us by God."
Weaving Jesus, the apostle Paul, and Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad into his argument, Cortes concluded: "During the second half of the football season I have felt uncomfortable saying the 'not gay' chant, not because of the content, but because of the stares and criticisms I receive after doing so. Despite this discomfort, I will continue to press on as one of the last beacons of strength and morality. That may sound too pompous for the rather insignificant matter at hand, but courage on any level is hard to find these days. Political correctness, a weakening morality and lack of courage are suffocating our once-great nation. You have an opportunity to stop the suffocation. Promote the 'not gay' chant."
Cortes' stand as a self-proclaimed beacon of strength and morality did not go over particularly well with many folks. When InsideHigherEd.com posted a story about the controversy, reactions filled the "Comments" page.
One reader wrote: "I wonder if Mr. Alex Cortes would have a problem if the verse ended with '...where all is bright and brown.' How would he feel if the majority were shouting 'I'M NOT BROWN!' If he heard that shouted in his ear, then maybe he would understand how gay people feel about his unprovoked animosity. If he has a problem with gays, that's fine. But if no one is in his face about his personal qualities not shared by the majority of Americans, then he should just show a little more wisdom and keep his piehole shut!"
Personally, I'm not sure where I stand. I am as offended as anyone by the common linkage of "gay" with "stupid." At the same time, I firmly believe in the First Amendment, and will defend to the death the right of drunken college students and alumni to look like idiots by opening their pieholes at football games.
Meanwhile, lost in all the hubbub is the very next line of "The Good Ol' Song," which no one complains about: "Let's all join hands and give a yell for dear old UVA."
"Let's all join hands"?! Is there anything gayer than that?!
Dan Woog is a journalist, educator, soccer coach, gay activist, and author of the "Jocks" series of books on gay male athletes. Visit his website at www.danwoog.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org