The 2019 Glitterball committee has come under fire after advertising a “tokenising” and “appropriating” ball theme on their event’s website.
Cherwell understands that the theme of next June’s Glitterball has changed from “LGBTQ+ History through the Eras” to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, upon recommendation from the University’s LGBTQ+ Society and the Oxford Student Union’s LGBTQ+ Campaign group.
The original theme proved controversial among some students and was criticised on Twitter for “tokenising” and “appropriating” the actions of those who participated in the Stonewall Riots.
The riots were a sequence of large-scale demonstrations by members of the LGBTQ+ community provoked by a police raid which took place at Manhattan’s Stonewall Inn on 28th June 1969.
These protests are widely considered the most important event leading to the beginnings of modern activism for LGBTQ+ rights.
The ball is due to take place a week preceding the 50th anniversary of the riots, scheduled for 20th June at Oxford Town Hall.
Until the initial theme was dropped, the Glitterball’s official website marketed the event as “celebrating 50 years since the first brick was thrown at Stonewall with [its] very own protest.”
The statement also urged the ball-goers to “tear up the dresscode and slap on [their] glittery warpaint!” promising that the event would be “a riot”.
In a response on Twitter, an Oxford student called the theme “hideous”, “egregious”, and the most “brazenly offensive thing to have come out of Oxford.
“I just heard that Oxford LGBT+ Society are taking the Stonewall Riots to be the theme of their next Glitterball.
“Yes, ball, an elitist institution, which is effectively a piss-up, where no doubt copious amounts of drug abuse will take place.”
When asked to comment, Glitterball President Nic Elliott denied that the ball was linked in any way to the anniversary of the riots, writing that: “The Glitterball 2019 theme will not be and was never going to be ‘the Stonewall Riots’.”
Instead, he told Cherwell that ‘LGBTQ+ History Through the Eras’ was only a potential theme being considered, but upon “discussions” with SU Campaign and the LGBTQ+ society, the theme was dropped.
In regards to abandoning this as a potential theme, Elliott told Cherwell that, after consideration and “work[ing] closely with the LGBTQ+ Society, SU LGBTQ+ Campaign, and other Oxford based LGBTQ+ groups”, the committee decided that the initial theme was not “an appropriate message for a celebratory event like Glitterball 2019.”
He told Cherwell that the previously-quoted event details were posted online in order “to see how it would appear visually,” along with marketing for other potential themes.
However, he wrote that seeing the previously-quoted event details on the live website “helped [the committee] realise” how the theme “may be perceived as distasteful, as the website is very glittery and ‘upbeat’.”
This lead them to “[believe] that it did not fit with the darker moments of our shared LGBTQ+ history.”
Elliott stressed that this “mockup marketing material” was put online prior to any official announcements regarding the Glitterball and, therefore, allegedly assumed that the “website traffic before this was zero.”
He told Cherwell that the likelihood of “somebody outside of the Glitterball committee, LGBTQ+ Society, or the SU LGBTQ+ Campaign seeing this pre-publication material was extremely low.”
This is despite the fact a senior editorial member of Cherwell viewed the “pre-publication” material while it was still publicly available online.
Elliott told Cherwell: “Although we intended to celebrate the positive aspects of our history, we felt that we could not do so without acknowledging the more negative aspects and huge amounts of work that still need to be done, particularly with regards to trans liberation.
“The LGBTQ+ community and its struggles throughout the years have encompassed salient intersectional aspects, so I understand that approaching this theme may be perceived as tokenisation or appropriation.
“We strive to create an event which LGBTQ+ people can not only enjoy, but feel proud to have been part of, and so invite and value any and all feedback from our community.”
OULGBTQ+ Society President, Ellie Oppenhein, told Cherwell that while the Society is not officially linked to the Glitterball, they are still closely involved with the organisers.
Oppenhein said: “Due to the significance of this event for LGBTQ+ students in Oxford, we are in close contact with the organisers to ensure that the event is inclusive to as many students as possible under the LGBTQ+ umbrella.”
She confirmed that the theme was dropped “due to the complex nature of sensitively executing such a theme.”
Cherwell understands that the SU’s LGBTQ+ Campaign, the political campaigning arm of the University’s student LGBTQ+ community, took particular issue with the theme.
The campaign’s co-chair, Aaron Hughes, told Cherwell that the campaign “gave feedback on the theme” that lead to the ball committee deciding to change the theme in order to “honour and celebrate the work done by LGBTQ+ activists”, as per “[the ball committee’s] original intention.”
In order to recognise the 50th anniversary of the riots, the Glitterball will be making a donation to a LGBTQ+ charity.