The University of Sussex LGBTQ society has sparked controversy recently, after it asked local lesbian artists to remove the word “dyke” from an advertisement posted onto its Facebook page due to a recent “safe space” policy change.
UPDATE (17:16): Sussex University LGBTQ have released a new statement on their website which reads: “We at Sussex LGBTQ are not banning the word dyke, nor are we preventing any of our members or wider LGBTQ community from identifying as dykes.”
The new statement goes on to say “We apologise for any offense caused and if this is viewed as an act of censorship, we simply wanted to maintain an environment in which all of our members feel comfortable and safe.”
The group announced on facebook Monday that it determined its safe space policy superseded the use of words such as “fag” and “dyke” on the grounds that such words could still be considered harmful and offensive, despite reclamation.
The Huffington Post reports that Rose Collis and VG Lee, two local artists, posted an advert of their upcoming play Bah! Humbuggers (or Dyke the Halls) on the students’ Facebook group to publicise the event.
The post was quickly removed, however, and the artists rebuked by the group chair for offensive content.
“I am contacting you today as we are going to remove your post regarding Bah Humbuggers on our timeline. We have a safe space policy in place on our page and unfortunately the word ‘Dyke’ violates this policy,” the message read.
“As a society we pride ourselves on promoting a safe space which means everyone should be able to participate in a safe environment.
“We find ourselves in a situation where members of the society felt uncomfortable with having an event posted which included the term, Dyke.
“We do not have a problem with your event just the word included in the name. We are happy for you to repost your event without the word Dyke if you wish to. I apologise if this causes an inconvenience.”
Ms Collis called the message “staggeringly ignorant, beyond insulting and politically correct censorship gone mad”.
In an interview with Gscene, she said: “My first thought was ‘you’ve got to be kidding me.’ I’ve been a self-defined out and proud dyke activist for 34 years, marching and campaigning for gay rights before it became a trendy social event.
“And now I’m being told that a word and definition, steeped in our history and reclaimed by lesbian women, is taboo and ‘violates safe space’.”
VG Lee also added: “As well as being an author, I am also a comedian and would find the email from Sussex LGBTQ hilarious, if it was not so insidious.”
The society’s safe space policy states: “All areas in which the Group operates will be subject to the Students’ Union Safe Space Policy. The Union is committed to providing an inclusive and supportive environment without fear of racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia or any other form of discrimination.
“We ask that every member pay attention to their conduct and behaviour and show respect to others when engaging in any activities hosted or supported by the Students’ Union.
“This includes listening to another’s point of view, using appropriate and respectful language at all times, and refraining from behaviour which can be perceived to be aggressive, intimidating, offensive or discriminatory.”
The group has also said its aim in removing the offensive terms is not “discrimination.”
It added that next year, during LGBTQ History Month in February, it plans to host a discussion on “issues concerning reappropriation.”
“At the moment, members of a group that have begun reclamation of ‘fag’ have politely offered to come and speak, and we hope that others who have begun reclamation of ‘dyke’ might be willing to do the same.”
In October, a head teacher in Sussex spoke out in the wake of singer Will Young’s campaign to curb homophobic bullying in schools, by taking seriously the use of the word “gay” as a derogatory insult.