Students tolerant of gays

by Erin Loback | 11/20/95 6:00am

Despite a recent rash of homophobic activity on campus, leaders in the gay, lesbian and bisexual community say most students are tolerant of homosexuals, but add that the entire Dartmouth community must do more to prevent hate crimes.

On Halloween night, someone threw dirt at a first-floor window of Jocelyn Bramble '96, a resident of Lord Hall. Bramble, a member of the Dartmouth Rainbow Alliance, had an alliance flag hanging in her window.

Two weeks before the Halloween incident, someone wrote "Kill the faggots" over a gay-friendly sticker on the fourth-floor hallway window of Lord, Bramble said. She also said that in early October, a rainbow flag and a pink triangle sticker were torn off her car.

Despite these incidents -- and several other reports of similar incidents around campus -- gay, lesbian and bisexual leaders said they think most students are opposed to homophobia.

Assistant Coordinator of Peer Education Programs Bart Bingenheimer '94, who advises the Dartmouth Rainbow Alliance, said he does not really encounter homophobia on a day-to-day basis.

Bingenheimer said in a place where "99.95 percent are totally supportive [of gay rights], it only takes one or two people to tear down stickers" and commit other acts of hate.

Bingenheimer said he thinks a majority of the campus supports homosexuals, while "the folks writing derogatory comments are becoming a smaller and smaller minority."

"There will always be a few who persist," he said.

Joellen Popma, a staff psychiatrist at Dick's House, said forms of hate and backlash against homosexuals are going to exist in any community.

"From my experience at other universities, there are still hate groups in spite of things the university did to say they are not okay," Popma said. "Crimes were still committed against homosexuals."

Alliance co-Chair Herlena Harris '96 said she thinks most students are very tolerant, but since Dartmouth has a conservative history, people tend to overestimate opposition to gay rights.

She said phobias come from not knowing. "Don't make hasty actions based on assumptions," she said.

But while alliance co-Chair Mario Martinus '98 said he agrees that homophobic students are in the minority, he said he has come to realize that Dartmouth is not as accepting as he once believed.

Martinus said when he was a freshman he thought homosexual student life was "all roses," but leading the alliance has shown him that homophobia is more widespread than he previously thought.

"It's not whether [homosexuality] is right or wrong," Martinus said. "What matters is that a person has a right to live and not be on guard all the time ... I hope everyone at Dartmouth can see that everyone should have the right to feel safe and unthreatened."

Conservative Union At Dartmouth Vice President Mark Cicirelli '96 said, "Menacing homosexual students is clearly unacceptable."

He also said those responsible for the recent homophobic attacks at Lord "were a bunch of idiots," but the incident should be put into perspective.

"These were isolated events -- I wouldn't overreact to them," he said.

Conservative Union President Isaac Thorne '96 also said it is important to realize the incidents were isolated.

"Some drunken random flinging dirt at a ground-floor window does not a reign of homophobic terror make," Thorne said.

A loud response

Many leaders agreed that it is important for supporters of the gay community to voice their support in order to prevent more hate crimes and homophobic attacks.

Wess Jolley, the co-convenor of the Coalition for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Concerns, said people need to stand up and say homophobic behavior is "unacceptable, no matter who it is directed at."

The coalition is a group of faculty and administrators that has worked to further homosexual rights at Dartmouth. One recent achievement was to gain domestic partner benefits for homosexual employees.

Popma said people need to take the risk of saying homophobic behavior is unacceptable.

"Sometimes these risks can mean more when taken by straight faculty and students, because it shows they are not just working for their own cause," she said.

Bingenheimer said support often goes unvoiced, while gay rights opponents are frequently vocal.

Many groups and individuals have begun to take a more active role in eliminating homophobia on campus.

After the recent homophobic attacks, several students wrote letters The Dartmouth condemning the attacks and supporting homosexual rights.

Dean of the College Lee Pelton also wrote a letter to The Dartmouth in which he stated, "It is intolerable that members of our community should be subjected to such hateful and hurtful acts."

He also wrote that he has been "particularly heartened that so many students have come together to express their support for a community that extends dignity and respect to all of its members."

In a letter written to the community, the Afro-American Society pledged its support "to the unfortunate student who was forced to endure such persecution and to all gay, lesbian and bisexual members of our community."

And the Student Assembly unanimously passed a resolution calling for the campus to "acknowledge the moral and ethical wrong of these hateful and hurtful actions."

Efforts by the College

Popma said one indication that the College is trying to better accommodate gay students is the creation of her position. Working with gay, lesbian and bisexual students is one of her specialty areas, she said.

Martinus said he has visited Ivy League schools and other northeastern campuses and some of their administrations have done "astonishing" things for their homosexual communities.

He said Vassar College, for example, has a "gay" house. He added there is nowhere on the Dartmouth campus that homosexual students can call their own.

"We need a 'gay space,' " Martinus said. He said such "gay space" should be a priority, but said he does not think one will be created soon.

Martinus did say the administration has been working to help homosexual students.

"The administration is definitely on our side -- they are working to see what they can do," he said.

He said some alliance members recently met with Pelton, but have yet to come up with a concrete plan of action.

"The administration needs to send out the message to the community that if people commit hate crimes, they will not get away with it," Martinus said.

Martinus also said students who have recently reported homophobic attacks said Safety and Security was very helpful.