As the oldest University student-run BSDM discussion and education organization in the nation, Conversio Virium has a lot of history. We’ve had some good times and some bad times, and they’re all worth remembering fondly. The other day this old letter to Conversio Virium from Robert B. Chatelle, Board Member of the National Writers Union popped up on my radar.
The letter, which speaks to the importance of self-expression, is a response to Conversio Virium’s expulsion from Columbia University which was instigated by a campus Christian organization. For posterity, I have quoted it in its entirety below, though you can also read it from its original source:
December 4, 1994
542 W. 112 St.
New York NY 10025-1660
Dear Members of Conversio Virium,
On behalf of the National Writers Union I’d like to express our unqualified outrage at your expulsion by the Columbia Student Governing Board on December 1. The National Writers Union is a labor union representing nearly 4,000 freelance writers. We are proud to be affiliated with the United Auto Workers as UAW Local 1981 AFL-CIO.
We are outraged for several reasons. First of all, by our constitution, the “National Writers Union is committed to freedom of expression in all media.” Because Conversio Virium is a discussion-only group, your expulsion is a clear violation of your rights to assembly and expression.
Second, the National Writers Union is opposed to all forms of discrimination, including discrimination based on sexual orientation. This too is clearly enunciated in our constitution. When we first affiliated with the UAW, our Delegates Assembly unanimously approved a resolution calling for the NWU to work to amend the constitution of the UAW to be inclusive of all sexual orientations. We were successful in this effort, and NWU President Jonathan Tasini spoke in favor of the constitutional change at the last UAW Constitutional Convention.
Third, we are outraged to hear that the movement for your expulsion was led by individuals claiming to be “Christian.” Over the past several years many sexual minority people have been injured, permanently disabled, and even murdered by people claiming to be Christians doing God’s will. The National Writers Union has many Christian members, and bigotry in the name of Christianity insults not only these members but also all true Christians.
Fourth, we are outraged that ten student groups care so little about human rights that did not attend the December 1 meeting to vote. Who will speak for them when their freedom is at stake?
I am not part of the BDSM community myself, but as a 52-year-old gay man I know well the pain and indignity of discrimination. I have a great many friends within your community, and they are good, caring, and decent human beings. Many have been valuable members and activists within the National Writers Union. I remember with special fondness, for example, John Preston, whom we invited to serve on our National Advisory Board shortly before his death last spring. John gave unselfishly to our union and he is greatly missed.
Anyone who bothers to learn about the BDSM community knows that the charge that you “promote unjustifiable violence” is ridiculous. On the contrary, the 18 groups who voted against you, and the ten cowardly groups who stayed away, committed an act of unjustifiable violence against Conversio Virium. Let them be advised that there are organizations such as the National Writers Union that do not remain silent when confronted with censorship and intolerance.
Let us know how we can be of help.
Robert B. Chatelle, National Board Member
Political Issues Chair
National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981 AFL-CIO
cc: Members of the Free Expression Network: People for the American Way, the ACLU, the National Coalition Against Censorship, the National Campaign for Freedom of Expression, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the Baptist Joint Committee, the Media Coalition, the American Library Association, Feminists for Free Expression, Human Rights Watch, the National Council of Churches, PEN American Center, and many others.