Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Queen David versus tokenism, the bane of good intentions

A comment on a news story... perhaps more elaborate than some of the other 36 comments on the site, most of which read like this: "It's ridiculous." "No, it's not. Go David!" "No, it's ludicrous." "No, it's fine. Go David!"

So this gay teenage boy, David, auditioned for the role of Carnival Queen in the town of Axbridge, UK. In the headline, they call him "the only gay in the village," as if "gay" is a noun. Maybe it is in the UK. Anyway, they didn't feel comfortable giving him the actual title, so they created an "Alternative fete queen" title for him and let him ride in the parade in a lilac dress and tiara.

I certainly don't have a problem with a boy getting the title of "Queen" in a carnival parade. I also don't really have a problem with them creating a new category for him... if they want to respect the tradition of having a female "queen" but they still want to give the boy a chance, then it makes sense to put him up on his own float, so he can contribute something to the event.

What I have a problem with is the tone of the news story. Listen to this stupid statement by Robin Goodfellow, one of the committee members who helped make the decision:

"We had to decide which would offend people least - including the boy or leaving him out.

"It was felt we couldn't eliminate him just because he was male. This was the best solution on the day.

"Some people might be offended but we would rather be inclusive than exclusive. It's hard enough to get people involved as it is."

I won't blame this on the town, because it could equally well be a result of bad news reporting, but this is the kind of remark that fucks up the whole thing. Feel free to elect a boy queen, or "alternative queen," but don't defend the decision on the basis of "inclusion" and "not offending people." That's exactly how stigmas get attached to rising movements... it's a sad display of tokenism, and should be kept out of the decision-making process.

If you're going to make a boy the Carnival Queen, judge him on real criteria... criteria that make sense for a Carnival parade. Does he show good character? Is he enthusiastic and charismatic? Does he do the community a service by representing it at a local event?

If he does all these things, then a few locals throwing eggs won't bother him, and the world will revolve a little smoother and more tolerantly. But if he's chosen so people aren't offended, as a sacrifice on the altar of tolerance and tokenism, then those insults and bad vibes will wreck the occasion, and the positive spirit of a small town's progressive decision.


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