Ohio State’s Marching Band Revealed To Be a Bastion of Homophobia, Sexism

Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
July 25 2014 4:57 PM

OSU’s Marching Band Is a Homophobic, Sexist Mess

The marching Buckeyes have a big problem.

Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images

The Ohio State University Marching Band is pretty high-profile as marching bands go. In recent months their catchy halftime show drill patterns—imitating everything from Michael Jackson dance moves to classic video games—have drawn attention from social media and the press, including Slate’s own Brow Beat. If that weren't enough, they were even featured in one of Apple’s stylish iPad commercials earlier this year.

As a veteran and fan of the marching arts, I was thrilled to see the OSUMB generating some wider interest in the genre—which is why it broke my heart to read news that the band’s director, Jonathan Waters, was fired this week as a first disciplinary blow against what appears to be a deeply ingrained, creepily sexualized culture of misogyny and homophobia among staff and student musicians alike. The Columbus Dispatch has the details:

Ohio State fired Waters, 38, after a university investigation found a cascade of evidence that students in the band routinely harassed one another––often directed from older students to newcomers––and that Waters ignored complaints about those traditions.
University investigators found that Waters knew of several traditions and allowed them to continue. The report also found that he mishandled a report that one band member sexually assaulted another: Waters tried to discipline the female victim along with the male student, but Ohio State reversed the decision.
J. Bryan Lowder J. Bryan Lowder

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.


Waters and his attorney claim that he “tried as hard as he could within the constraints imposed upon him to change that culture,” but internal documents and testimony collected by the investigation suggest that the director didn’t try hard enough. The report tells of hazing traditions which saw band members pressured into practicing in their underwear and being asked to perform “tricks” of a highly sexualized nature: One woman was made to fake orgasming while sitting on various male band members’ laps, including her brother’s. Additionally, new members were asked to take a “Rookie Midterm,” which included dozens of offensive questions, including the troubling task of answering “How many gay guys are in band? How many lesbians? Name them and their row.” And that bit of trivia pales in comparison to lyrics discovered in an internal band songbook, where titles like “Proud to be a Homosexual” and “He’s a Sweet Gay Fag” were disturbingly common.

Over at Outsports, Jim Buzinski writes that the gross homophobia shocked him: “I would have assumed band would be welcoming place. I have been amazed by comments I have seen where some readers say this is all good, clean fun. Sorry, anytime people sing about "fags" is never fun or acceptable.”

As someone who made it through high school in no small part thanks to the safe haven my school’s band program offered to a pretty clearly (if not yet openly) gay kid, I have to echo his dismay. In regions and schools where macho sports culture reigns supreme, band should be one of the places queer and otherwise “alternative” kids can find a little succor. Band rooms should be sanctuaries. Working together for the good of “the show” afforded me an opportunity to explore my musical creativity and more theatrical impulses (including the occasional spray of hair glitter) free from the kind of gender policing common elsewhere in life. While the legal aspects of the Ohio story will be sorted out in time, the most dispiriting aspect of this story for this band geek is learning that, at OSU, the band room may be just as hostile as the world outside. 


Sports Nut

Grandmaster Clash

One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

How to Keep Apple From Sharing Your iPhone Data With the Police

The NFL Explains How It Sees “the Role of the Female”

Future Tense

Uh-Oh. The World’s Oceans Have Broken Their All-Time Heat Record.


How to Order Chinese Food

First, stop thinking of it as “Chinese food.”

Uh-Oh. The World’s Oceans Have Broken Their All-Time Heat Record.

The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant

The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 11:40 AM The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant
  News & Politics
Sept. 18 2014 8:20 PM A Clever Attempt at Explaining Away a Vote Against the Farm Bill
Sept. 18 2014 6:02 PM A Chinese Company Just Announced the Biggest IPO in U.S. History
Sept. 18 2014 4:15 PM Reactions to a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Reveal Transmisogyny
  Double X
Sept. 18 2014 8:07 PM Crying Rape False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Every Day That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 4:33 PM The Top 5 Dadsplaining Moments From The Cosby Show
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 6:48 PM By 2100 the World's Population Could Be 11 Billion
  Health & Science
Sept. 18 2014 3:35 PM Do People Still Die of Rabies? And how do you know if an animal is rabid?
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.