Gay bashing on the rise at University, residence halls

No one is allowed in the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Programs Office in Coffman Union alone without the front door locked.
Employees regularly encounter several types of harassment from threatening voice-mail messages to graffiti.
“Stuff happens in our office that other offices don’t have to deal with,” said director Beth Zemsky.
But according to police reports, this type of anti-gay harassment is happening all over campus, with more frequency.
After a quiet end to 1996 and the first nine months of 1997, police reports of homosexual-biased crimes have gone up this school year — especially in residence halls.
University Police records reveal eight reports of biased crimes on campus in the last two school years. But there have been four reports in the last nine months; a jump compared to four in the previous year and a half.
Though officials said this type of harassment has occurred on a regular basis for years at the University, campus groups have different ways of dealing with it.
Around campus, GLBT programs office took reports of 63 incidents of people who felt they had been treated poorly because of their sexual orientation or gender identification in 1997.
These reports include workplace, classroom and housing discrimination.
Zemsky said a fair amount of the reports come from student housing. The GLBT programs office has received eight reports from housing alone since the beginning of the year.
“You get people from all over the state and the world and it’s the first time they’ve lived together,” Zemsky said. When these people get together, she said, something is bound to happen.
Such has been the case at times in Bailey Hall. Three recent incidents caused hall coordinator Kevin Altes to send letters to every resident decrying sexual-based harassment and asking residents to report crimes they see.
Last month, Joel Dickinson, a freshman who lives in Bailey Hall, came home to find a picture he had hung on his door of two men kissing scrawled with offensive graffiti. It said, “Fags are us.”
He isn’t the only person in Bailey Hall to be targeted. Earlier in the year someone wrote “fags, dykes” on a soda machine in the hall and more recently “fags suck” on a bathroom stall.
This type of graffiti can be found in many places around campus, especially restroom stalls.
“These people are accomplishing nothing but fear,” Dickinson said. “As much as they hate me, I hate them.”
Last summer in Comstock Hall, Heidi-Rose Isenhart, a freshman in English Education, tried to advertise a GLBT group meeting by putting up fliers.
Every time the fliers went up, they were swiftly torn down, even though they had been cleared by the front desk.
“This year we are finding fliers in the same places and they are still there,” Isenhart said. “I don’t think people cared at all.”
Isenhart now lives in Bailey. She said she has also seen a general fear of gays and lesbians in the hall.
But Altes said Bailey is not unique on campus.
“I think the climate here is no different from the rest of campus,” Altes said. “There are people here who are uncomfortable with issues of homosexuality.”
Altes runs many programs in the hall to help sway these attitudes. He holds diversity workshops and floor meetings to talk about differences.
Other offices handle these incidents in a variety of ways.
Detective Charles Miner said University police do not investigate biased crimes differently than any other incidents.
The difference exists when these cases are prosecuted. Minnesota has a biased crime statute that increases the penalty if someone commits a crime because of a perceived bias.
But Miner said there is a fine line in some cases.
“Some of the cases fall under free speech,” Miner said. Doors belong to the residence halls and as long as the writing is erasable, there isn’t much the police can do, Miner said.
But when reported, he said, police will investigate.
Anti-homosexual incidences can also be reported to the GLBT programs office.
Zemsky said her first move is to talk through the incident with the victim. Then she makes sure the victim is safe to go back home.
Part of the office’s goal is to provide a place for victims of this type of harassment.