By JINJOO LEE
Last month, Samuel Naimi ’16 attended tryouts for the Big Red Bears Club, which recruits volunteers to be the Big Red Bear, Cornell’s mascot. But what club members said at the tryouts soon made Naimi, who prefers to go by the pronoun “they,” realize they might not fit the role.
The Big Red Bear must always act like a “heterosexual man” and “approach only women,” one of the members of the Big Red Bear Club said at the meeting, according to Naimi.
The members were explaining what the mascots can and cannot do in costume, which included restrictions such as not holding babies, according to Naimi.
The comment that the mascot must act like a “heterosexual man” made them feel “extremely uncomfortable,” Naimi said. “They’re supposed to be representing the diverse Cornell community.”
The Big Red Bears Club neither denied nor confirmed that the incident occurred. The club released a statement saying it “by no means sets a standard for gender or mannerisms of the bear.” At the same time, it cannot assure that the comments did not take place.
“We cannot control the words of all our members in their individual discussions of the bear,” the statement read. The club will ensure that similar comments will not be made in the future, according to the statement.
“We take this type of accusation very seriously and will be looking into the incident to ensure that if it did indeed occur, a similar one will not happen in the future,” the statement said.
Naimi, however, said the situation escalated as the meeting progressed.
After the comment about the bear’s heterosexual role was made, Naimi said they told a friend that they felt uncomfortable and that they wanted to leave.
However, it was not until a member of the Big Red Bears Club made another intolerant statement that Naimi said they were promted to leave.
“Only during Filthy/Gorgeous is the bear not a straight male,” one of the members said, eliciting laughter from the audience, according to Naimi.
Naimi said they felt “marginalized, not being allowed to represent [their] identity.” The comment trivialized identities of the LGBTQ community, Naimi said.
“It’s as if our identities are not serious, as if our identities are jokes and not part of the norm,” Naimi said.
Naimi, a facilitator at CU Gay-Straight Alliance, discussed the incident at one a the GSA meetings following the event.
“I think everyone [at the GSA meeting] expressed some form of anger or expressed that they were upset,” Naimi said.
Bailey Dineen ’15, who also prefers to go by the pronoun ‘they,’ said hearing about the incident left them feeling infuriated. Dineen is the vice president of HAVEN: The LGBTQ Student Union and a Sun columnist.
“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.”
Dineen also said the incident was “closely linked to” the “Cinco de Octubre” incident in which Cornell Athletics ran a Cinco de Mayo-themed marketing campaign that was condemned by students and administrators for being culturally insensitive.
“That was also about not about normalizing racism. Here, we’re trying not to normalize heterosexism,” Dineen said.
Dineen reflected on recent University survey results, which showed that 73 percent of self-identified queer students felt — occasionally to very often — insulted or threatened by other students based on their social identity.
Dineen said not enough people understand what “uncomfortable” means for queer-identifying students.
Being uncomfortable “means not acknowledging the presence of minority people or people with different ways of acting and having heteronormativity be so forceful and apparent and ubiquitous that we’re rendered invisible,” Dineen said. “That’s what those statistics felt to me.”
The discomfort Naimi felt at The Big Red Bears meeting was not an experience that was out of the ordinary, Naimi said.
“At Greek parties, I hear slurs about my identity, and I get called names all the time. I’ve come home so many times feeling uncomfortable, feeling so tired.”
Betrearon Tezera ’14, facilitator of Direct Action to Stop Heterosexism, said LGBTQ-identifying students feel the burden of constantly having to think about what spaces on campus are safe.
“Constantly finding out, ‘Okay, am I going to be safe? am I going to be understood? …’ It’s incredibly taxing to think that way everyday, all the time,” Tezera said.