By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
Mike Lent hugs everyone who walks though the door of the Queer Student Cultural Center, a grape-and-lime painted office tucked away on the second floor of the University of Minnesota's Coffman Memorial Union.
"Welcome to Kinky U," Lent says eagerly, tucking strands of his blond highlighted hair behind his ear. "We're playing 'Don't Break the Ice,' you know, to break the ice."
It's the last night of January, and Kinky U's first meeting since being lambasted by Star Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten, who portrayed the student group as a latter-day Sodom and Gomorrah.
Bryan, age 25 and the group's comedian, jokes about "rocking someone's cock off." Someone else makes small talk about the weather.
An awkward silence takes over. Everyone is waiting for the guest speaker—a rope expert—and Lent has informed his fellow deviants that if he doesn't show soon, they'll have to fill the two hours with a group discussion.
The only noise comes from Bryan, who is tapping away at the board game's ice chunks with his plastic toy hammer. The little man finally falls, and Bryan starts to croon, "Our God is an awesome God..."
The rest of the dozen kids around the table join the chorus, until no one can remember the lyrics. Annslie, an 18-year-old, jokes that Kinky U should start every meeting that way.
Emily, a 20-year-old recent transfer from Concordia University, mentions that for years she led worship services at a church camp.
"That's dirty," 23-year-old Nicholas G. says ironically.
"I have a confession, too," says Lent. "I actually dated a fundamentalist."
Suddenly, two members of QSCC's governing board interrupt the meeting.
"We need a statement," one says.
"It is in your best interest to answer the questions, 'How does Kinky U as a group serve the community?' and, 'How is the $100 it receives every semester from student fees justified?'" the other continues. "We need something to tell people when they call."
Every year a board of students decides which of some 600 student groups will receive student fees, and how much. The groups that get money are not supposed to be political, religious, or partisan, says Jerry Rinehart, University of Minnesota's vice provost of student affairs. The idea is to encourage a "marketplace of ideas."
"There should be lots of different perspectives represented and we should not allow any one group to censor or drown out another," Rinehart says.
The QSCC received $37,500 this year in student funds and gave $100 to Kinky U for programming, as it did its other 14 member groups. While it doesn't sound like much money, it was enough to rouse the ire of conservatives.
"Katherine Kersten is an evil, evil bitch," one Kinky U member muses.
"At least we're not at risk of being put in jail like Oscar Wilde," says Annslie, looking down and picking at her chipped black nail polish.
"Thankfully, we have lots of kinky lawyers," Lent says.
"Is law kinky?" asks Chase, a quiet 18-year-old with braces who wears jeans and a yellow Minnesota sweatshirt.
"I sure feel good when I'm around the law student association meetings," Nicolas G. quips.
Eventually, the jokes end and silence again envelops the room.
Lent is first to speak up: "I mean, there are always going to be kinky people. It's an honest sexual need to satisfy these desires. Without the knowledge to do it in safety, people will get killed."
"Remember that pastor who died all tied up in a wetsuit?" someone chimes in.
"It's not like we're engaging in BDSM with each other," Bryan adds, using the acronym for Bondage, Discipline, Sadism, and Masochism. "We're talking about it and being explicit about what practices there are and how to be safe."
"Talking about it doesn't promote it," continues Ben. "It's removing the stigma. It's allowing people to accept themselves. It's being realistic about what is actually going on."
Bryan, whose rainbow yarmulke accents glow-in-the-dark shoes, pulls up a website listing other campus organizations. Each group has a blurb.
"Here's one about Jesus," he says, referring to the group Christians on Campus, "and I quote, 'We're trying to bring Jesus, the only true light, to a dark and hopeless campus.' My fees go to them."
Then there are the Students for a Conservative Voice, whose mission is to "advance and promote conservative values and principles on the campus."
"Clearly those conservative ideas should have a counterpoint," Bryan argues.
"Well, why not just change the group's name, then?" asks a girl who plays devil's advocate. "If you didn't have the word kink in it, you wouldn't be getting all this attention."
"The point is not to be ashamed, to have found other people like you, and to recognize that it's just part of who you are and something that you are interested in and to not have to continually hide it," says Emily, a 20-year-old submissive who plans to one day be a neurosurgeon. "To change our name is to admit defeat."