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Rosenbloom '13: Ceding the moral high ground

The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property staged a protest against gay marriage March 23. Students responded with a spontaneous rally for gay rights. On the whole, the Brown community deserves praise for mobilizing to support gay rights. But certain aspects of this counter-protest were disgraceful, demeaning and counterproductive.

Unfortunately, Brown's counter-rally was not only defined by support and love for the gay community. It was also defined by hateful and uncivil behavior. Some protestors resorted to vandalism, profanity, spitting and physical obstruction. These immature actions reflected poorly on our student body and did not further the cause of gay rights.

The community has been too self-congratulatory in regards to this protest. We have overlooked the uncivil behavior of some protestors to elevate our sense of accomplishment and moral superiority. The behavior of some students at the rally demands intense self-examination, not mindless self-righteousness.

Certainly, not every protestor acted in a disrespectful manner. But it only takes a few uncivil protestors to frame a narrative of violent protest. Brown students often judge the Tea Party by the actions of a minority of its members. When a few attendants of a Tea Party event wield racist signs or make physical threats, we condemn all of middle America. When a few members of our own community resort to spitting, vandalism and obscenity, we conveniently overlook their behavior — or even glorify it.

Regardless of the actual number of people who engaged in such behavior, the community has failed to effectively distance itself from those who did act in such a hateful and counterproductive way. Instead, we have either dismissed their behavior or taken pride in it.

Having a noble goal does not excuse impure actions. While it is admirable to advocate for gay rights, it is not admirable to spit at opponents, flip them off or attempt to vandalize their property. This immature behavior becomes even less worthy when it is counterproductive, as it was in this case.

The society produced a provocative video that captured Brown students flipping off its members, trying to destroy their property and spitting on their materials. By acting in such an immature fashion, these protesters allowed the society to change the narrative of the rally. While students view the counter-protest as a triumph for gay rights, those who see the video may see it as a testament to our campus's climate of hate and inability to civilly engage with those who hold different beliefs.

A more civil protest would have been a more effective protest. Students could have made an equally strong case by gathering in large numbers and vocally supporting gay rights rather than resorting to vandalism, obscenities and spitting. A civil protest would have denied the society the opportunity to alter the focus of their rally. Although they stand for little more than homophobia and hate, our behavior allowed them to play the victim card and portray us as the hate group.

John Miller, a volunteer with the society, said of Brown's response, "The intellectual level is below the Ivy League status." It is tempting to dismiss this comment as the ranting of a bitter man. Unfortunately, his observation carries a sad amount of truth. No college students should resort to physical obstruction, obscenities or spitting, no matter how homophobic or intolerant the opposition.

It is unlikely that the society would have been open to an honest intellectual debate, but their closed-mindedness does not excuse our uncivil behavior. Protestors should have either ignored the society or focused on staging their own counter-protest, instead of sabotaging the society's.

Students are fond of citing Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. But we fail to apply their teachings to our own lives. At this rally, we had the chance to counter hate with civil disagreement and pure love for the gay community. Instead, we stooped to the level of this hate group by resorting to uncivil tactics. If we had protested in a respectful way, we would have been engaged in a noble, morally certain battle. But by resorting to such disrespectful tactics, we ceded the moral high ground.

Oliver Rosenbloom '13 is a history concentrator from Mill Valley, Calif. He can be contacted at


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