Pride and Color posters vandalized

By Tim Jones

Courtesy Food For Thought Books

Local Amherst-based book shop Food for Thought Books has plastered its front window with posters showing images developed by Amherst College’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transsexual, and Queer Racial/Ethnic minorities (GLBTQREM) group.

The group, known as “Pride and Color,” has recently been the target of defamation and vandalism, as the group has recently discovered an unknown person or persons has been covering its images of homosexual partners across town with duct tape. The group is dedicated to promoting ethnic and racial diversity among homosexuals, and is based in the five-college consortium.

Robert Thompson, president of GLBTQREM, said “Pride and Color” is trying to break the boundaries present in the minds’ of those who have preconceived notions of what defines a normal relationship.

“We’re trying to fight the stereotype that homosexuality is a white phenomenon,” Thompson said.

GLBTQREM’s most-recent campaign is called “No Normal,” which seeks to inform and educate local residents and college students of the falsehood of such a stereotype. The “No Normal” campaign idea was developed after Thompson had spoken with his mentor about his homosexuality for the first time.

“My mentor told me that there is no such thing as normal,” he said. “There is no standard by which you should hope to conform.”

The posters’ images, which depict homosexual and ethnic couples kissing and holding each other, have been covered by duct tape several times since they were hung up in December of last year. Group members are unsure of who the responsible party is, but said this isn’t the first time they have encountered resistance and opposition to their campaign.

While tabling in Amherst, the group encountered a person who wrote on their signs “straight is normal.”

Mitch Gaslin, collective owner of Food for Thought, said the taping has been somewhat sporadic over time.

“This is the first time someone has been so persistent,” Gaslin said.

‘It’s really not a big deal taking the tape off, and I think it’s not having the effect they want. If anything, it’s drawing more attention to the campaign,” he added.

A member of the group who wished to remain anonymous said she believed ethnicity played a part in the vandalism.

“A part of me feels that the image of two members of the same gender acting intimately wasn’t the only reason people wanted to cover it up,” she said.  “I think that the individuals’ races made the images even more shocking to some people.”

She continued, “In the end, the disturbing duct tape incident actually brought people together and made us all the more committed to celebrating our identities.”

Sentamu Kiremerwa, a member of the group, said he wasn’t expecting this type of behavior in Amherst.

“I am shocked that such an incident happened in Amherst. Our posters were taken down at Amherst College, which was sort of expected,” he said. “However to encounter the same behavior in downtown Amherst, that was a surprise. It is sort of dispiriting “

TK Tunchez, former collective member of Food for Thought, said this particular campaign was unique.

“It’s obviously incredibly offensive, but it’s unclear if this is just a homophobic statement or just plain racist,” she said. “We have had other posters with gays on them, but nothing like this has ever happened.”

These types of incidents, in which members of the gay community have been targeted, are not the first in the Amherst community. In 2007, Hampshire students who were attending a Gay and Proud (GAP) function on the Amherst College campus were allegedly harassed by several Amherst College students. The students reportedly threatened the Hampshire students with homophobic slurs, threw water balloons and poured beer on them as they attempted to leave.

Again in 2007, a student was allegedly assaulted by a couple of University of Massachusetts students in the Southwest Residential Area. Several friends of the alleged victim claimed he was targeted because the alleged attackers believed him to be gay.

A similar event occurred in 2008, where posters from the Radical Student Union depicting two homosexual men engaging in sexual intercourse were removed from the UMass campus. The UMass Republican Club considered the posters “gay pornography” and scheduled a “Rally for Public Decency” on the campus to protest the posters.

Justin Thompson of the UMass Republican club denied any affiliation with this event.

“No one from the club two years ago is left and the board has changed completely,” he said. “In my own opinion, it’s in poor taste, and we are supportive of all race, age and sexual identity.”

Robert Thompson wants to leave these incidents behind and said his group stands firm in their activities.

“I wasn’t surprised by it, and for me it was just another obstacle,” he said. “You just keep on moving forward with the goal, and at least I know our goal is having some effect.”

“Pride and Color” will continue their poster campaign and have other events planned for fund raising for future dates.

Tim Jones can be reached at [email protected]