‘Big Red Bear’ Must Be ‘Heterosexual Male,’ Student Allegedly Told

October 30, 2013 1:05 am49 comments


Dylan Clemens / Sun Staff Photographer Students from the LGBTQ community expressed outrage after members of the Big Red Bears Club allegedly said the mascot must act like a “heterosexual male.”

Dylan Clemens / Sun Staff Photographer
Students from the LGBTQ community expressed outrage after members of the Big Red Bears Club allegedly said the mascot must act like a “heterosexual male.”

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.

  • ToCornell

    I’m offended by many things, why don’t they each become a front page story of the sun?

    I’m sorry that you were offended Samuel, but your insistence on being called “they” is not an excuse to change every institution on campus that offends you. What if I insist on a belief system where bears are sacred and should not be used as mascots? Can I then insist Cornell change its 100 year history of using a male bear?

    I truly hope that the upsetting of a single individual does not lead the Big Red Bears to suddenly change course and accomodate the feelings of a single individual. Some people surely are afraid of a mascot approaching them, why then should we even allow the Bear to interact with students? There will always be at least one person that is offended by almost anything, let’s not make any rash decisions here.

  • the_Hold_Steady

    Other than the propensity for Cornellians to get outraged over every thing, I don’t see the issue.

    The people in the suit are essentially there as actors. The bear is a character. Actors are regularly told their character is to be played as a certain type of individual. This particular character is a straight male. As long as CU isn’t saying that gays or transgenders can’t apply there’s no problem. And that doesn’t seem to be the case.

    And, let’s face it, if CU allowed the bear (essentially a cartoon character who has to act in exaggerated manner due to the nature of the suit and the type of performance expected from a mascot) to act like anything but a straight male, someone would immediately decide that the bear was now a ‘hateful stereotype’ of a ‘mincing predatory homosexual’ and protest that as well.

  • nowag

    This may be the single most ridiculous thing I have ever read on the internet.

    • Joe Swharta

      That’s very quotable, NoWag. I’m going to steal it and there’s nothing you can do about that.

  • NYFGJoe

    I don’t understand why the mascot’s sexuality is relevant. I have never before thought of the bear as heterosexual, homosexual, or it’s sexuality at all. It (or “he,” since it does seem to be taken for granted that the bear is male, but even that seems irrelevant) might as well be asexual, as far as I’m concerned. The bear’s characteristics are that it’s energetic, outgoing, charismatic, confident, funny, and friendly. Those are all traits that can be used to describe anybody, regardless of gender or sexuality. Maybe you can throw in that the bear has a lot of testosterone, but even that is a trait LGBT men can have. The bear is a cartoon character meant to entertain children. It’s not supposed to be hitting on girls (human or mascot). The bear’s sexuality is no more relevant to its character than Spongebob’s sexuality is relevant to his character. Perhaps it would be different if there was a Mrs. Touchdown too, but there’s not.
    As for the statement that the bear should only approach women, that’s just false. I’m a male, and I’ve had the bear approach me many times, usually for a high-five (which is obviously non-sexual).

    • NYFGJoe

      Also, on an unrelated note, I respect Naimi’s and Dineen’s rights to choose what pronoun they prefer, but parts of this article were a bit confusing to read because of the use of “they” to refer to a single person. I know that in the past, the Sun has used only proper nouns and avoided pronouns when referring to someone who does not use the traditional pronouns in order to ensure clarity in the article, and I have seen major newspapers use the same policy (most notably the NY Times in an article about Bradley/Chelsea Manning’s sex change). I’m curious as to why that policy has changed.

  • Luke

    Can you imagine the horror! Someone felt uncomfortable! The same people that espouse diversity because it allegedly generates multiple and often conflicting perspectives do not want anyone to be offended. Can’t have it both ways.

    • Liza

      Saying ” a bear should be a hetero male” which is so offensive because it’s so out of left field is not the result of a diverse view point. Don’t kid yourself.

    • BillStewart2012

      Somebody felt uncomfortable because one of those people wanted to be the bear! Oh, noes! But deliberately excluding fellow students is offensive, and has no place in a university; you’re supposed to be learning to be better people by being exposed to more kinds of people.

      The Bear’s not supposed to be a sexual character, so he shouldn’t be acting heterosexual. He’s a bear. He’s supposed to be bouncy and energetic. I’m a straight guy and I played the football team mascot when I was in high school (and wasn’t very good at it :-) If these folks want to be the bear, and they’re good at being the bear, great! And if you don’t want to use the pronoun they want to be called, then “Hey, Bear” will do fine.

      Bill Stewart, Cornell Engineering, Class of 78

  • Spiderman


    • Spiderman

      For the record, I don’t believe that any member of the Big Red Bears Club is bigoted or intolerant. I merely mean to suggest that sometimes we sometimes make statements casually without considering that they might be very emotionally loaded to others.

      • Luke

        How does a white man act?

        • Spiderman

          I’m not sure – how does a heterosexual man act?

          • Luke

            I think the shorts that straight guys wear are longer than those worn by gay guys.

          • NYFGJoe

            So what does it say about Touchdown that he wears no pants?

          • Luke

            He is a bare bear.

      • Marc Hauser

        What if the rep said you were a politically correct faggot?

  • mike

    The whiteness on this comment thread tho…

  • Vi

    There are people starving all around the world including here in this region of NY, children dying of hunger and preventable diseases, wars being fought displacing thousands of people from their homes, and THIS is what Cornell students get upset about and call injustice? Seriously? I’m sorry that clearly you were upset by this incident, but put it in perspective, and recognize that the world doesn’t revolve around you.

    • mike

      Oppression’s not a dick measuring contest. Injustice against one person doesn’t make injustice against others less important. All struggles are bound up together.

      • Luke

        Yes, clearly all injustice is equivalent. Slavery is the same as a gay joke.

        • NYFGJoe

          Obviously that’s not true, but why should we only focus on fixing big picture hard to solve problems when we can very easily fix many small problems?

        • Sky

          A “gay joke”? You obviously dont know what you are talking about. This isnt a joke – its a bear, sexuality should not be an issue. So, why is it they are requiring a particular sexuality – and even further, why is it they are denouncing LGBTQ people?

          Clearly, they are marginalizing LGBTQ people. You think any marginalization of LGBTQ people is a joke, but marginalizing any other groups is not ok? Its not a joke, its the equivalent of race discrimination and sex discrimination.

          You’ve posted several times now on this post, and for some reason, you keep coming back as if your comments are even valid. LGBTQ people have rights as well, rights that include non-discrimination. In New York state, this is protected under the SONDA Act, which also allows for this issue to be taken to state court. Its illegal, not a joke.

          • Luke

            I suggest you look at the number of likes and dislikes for the various comments. It appears your position is not the popular one.

          • Liza

            Yes, because the majority is always right lol

          • TravisCuvelier

            Couldn’t agree more. Mitt Romney should’ve won.

          • Sky

            …I’m not sure if you know how to read:I’ll sum it up. ITS ILLEGAL.

            And what does popularity matter? Heres some more education for you: a fundamental idea put into the Bill of Rights was “majority rule, minority rights.” Think California’s Prop 8 (also ILLEGAL).

          • Luke

            You are fond of saying it is illegal (sorry for not including the caps, most people think that is rude). Please cite the provision of the law that makes “it” illegal and define what “it” is.

          • Sky

            *sigh* It’s like talking to my little brother, he never quite gets it. If you can’t follow implied subjects in a text-based conversation, I simply won’t continue.

            However, I will say this. Notice how you have run out of real reasons to deny the validity of Naimi being marginalized, and have retreated to silly children’s excuses in arguments.

          • Luke

            Sky- I believe that you are the one with reading comprehension issues. I simply asked you to identify with specificity the act that you deem to be illegal under NY law. Apparently, you are alleging that making an LGBTQ person feel marginalized is illegal. Is that correct? Is that really what you are saying?

          • Sky

            Let me quote myself: ” In New York state, this is protected under the SONDA Act.” Where ‘this’ is referring to discrimination based on sexuality.

          • Sky


    • Liza

      You’re right! Why are people bothering to go to their DAY JOBS and going to SCHOOL when they could drop everything and bring food to poor people.

      Actually, WHY are you reading the sun when you could be helping a poor unfortunate diseased person right now? .. Did you spend money on a COMPUTER to read this? How dare you when that money could have gone to charity.

  • Marc Hauser

    “We take this type of accusation very seriously”

    Well, you shouldn’t. Whatever this creature is, it should have been laughed off campus. Civilized society has no place for perverts.

  • maxmill

    The bear should approach all (male, female, etc.) in a friendly and non-threatening manner without any sexual innuendo. The bear is not like Spongebob in that there is a human being inside the costume. That person should, as far as he or she is able, act asexual. That said, the character is a male character. As for using “they,” people who refuse to use “he” or “she” should use their names like Bob Dole. “Bob Dole feels uncomfortable here.” Using “they” is stupid and confusing. What’s wrong with “it” or “one?”

  • fokkertism

    After the comment about the bear’s heterosexual role was made, Naimi
    said HE told a friend that HE felt uncomfortable and that HE
    wanted to leave.

    • Liza

      Why is it so unacceptable for a person to prefer a different pronoun?

  • Realist

    Just noticed that a few of the comments (that got a lot of upvotes) were removed. I guess even the Cornell Sun has a political agenda. Big Red Brother is monitoring your thoughts.

  • sarah

    It’s not up to anyone of us to say “no, you should have felt differently” when we probably (statistically) don’t identify as LGBTQ and have certainly never been in that particular situation. The fact that Naomi felt marginalized, uncomfortable, offended MAKES this a valid issue.

    • Luke

      I am offended that Naomi was offended.

    • Joe Swharta

      atta a girl, sarah. If people don’t realize the world revolves around Naomi, well hell, they need a wake up call!

      . . . you tell em, girlfriend.

  • pick7

    It often comes as a shock when someone/they discover that the hand which holds them down, is their own.

  • Jeff White

    I graduated Cornell eleven years ago. One reason I am so proud of my school is that even though it leans liberal like many schools, it’s not full of nutjobs out of touch with reality, like Brown and Columbia. We have some very successful athletic teams, we have lots of outdoorsy/normal people. We have majors and clubs for every type of person and not many schools can say that.
    First, I must say that using slurs isn’t ok. If you’re gay, you were probably born that way and should be treated with dignity. When I was at Cornell, there were gays and they were respected. But they didn’t demand special treatment. There’s a difference between being a gay man or lesbian, and being proud of that, and being nuts. Calling yourself “they” is nuts. You’re a dude, or you’re a chick. If you’re a flaming gay, fine! Nobody cares. But when you cross into “transgendernormative” crap or whatever, you lose people. The big red bear is a mascot. It’s a bear. It’s supposed to be tough. And there’s a certain way to act when you are the bear. Get over it.

    • nowag

      Welcome to the 2013 lib carnival.

    • Liza

      ‘And there’s a certain way to act when you are the bear.’ why is there? Why would a bear only approach women? That makes no sense.

  • ojo

    Hi I was at a recent ornithology event in which I was told I can’t live in the aviary and I was very offended and I have two friends who were also offended. Who should we contact to get our article? Also I would like to be referred to using the pronoun ‘a dinosaur,’ i.e, “a dinosaur said.”
    Thank you,
    A dinosaur

  • Joe Swharta

    Some may think of Samuel Naimi desire to be thought of as ‘they’ as a tactic to subvert your sense of control over your own thinking.

    Is that a queer idea? err, I mean gay?

  • Jay Wind

    The Cornell Daily Sun should follow journalism standards. The rules of English grammar are that one individual gets singular pronouns. There are important reasons for this. If a source says “I believe X.” The source takes ownership of a viewpoint. This then gets reported with a singular pronoun and the source as the antecedent of the pronoun. If a source says “They believe X,” there is a distance between the source and X. This should be reported as “The source does not believe X but thinks that other people might.” The source in this article played the reporter, and the reporter fell into his trap with the use of the “they” pronoun. The resulting story is a confused mess because the reader cannot tell what Naimi did, said or believes vs. what unnamed other people might have done, said or believed. So, all we know is that the Big Red Bear club denies everything, Naimi did not do or say anything, and that Naimi is very hungry for attention and free publicity.

  • mindfeck

    The bear is a character. Wouldn’t it be unusual if a character from your favorite show suddenly acted very differently?